Justice Sotomayor Formally Takes Seat on Supreme Court

By Robert Barnes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Justice Sonia Sotomayor officially took her seat as the Supreme Court's 111th member Tuesday in a tradition-filled ceremony witnessed by President Obama, Vice President Biden, and scores of lawmakers, judges, family members and friends.

Sotomayor took her judicial oath and joined the court on Aug. 8, soon after her Senate confirmation. But Tuesday's investiture ceremony was the first time she joined her eight colleagues in the court's historic chambers, with its marble columns and burgundy draperies.

She sat in the early-19th-century black leather chair once used by Chief Justice John Marshall, the court leader who established the court's authority as the final say on constitutional matters. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. administered the judicial oath, and she swore to "do equal right to the poor and to the rich" with her hand on a Bible signed by every justice who has served in the past 100 years.

Clerk of the Court William K. Suter read the antique language of the president's commission: "Know ye that reposing special trust and confidence in the Wisdom, Uprightness and Learning of Sonia Sotomayor of New York, I have nominated and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate do appoint her an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States."

Sotomayor, 55, wore a new black robe given by her former law clerks and a bright white jabot that was a gift from the court's other female member, Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

"We wish for you a long and happy career in our common calling," Roberts said at the conclusion of the four-minute ceremony.

"Thank you," Sotomayor replied. She then took the traditional seat for the court's junior justice, all the way to the chief justice's left.

Among those in the courtroom: White House staff members who had worked for her confirmation; judges from the U. S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in New York and around the country; several rows of senators who had voted to confirm her; the man she replaced, recently retired Justice David H. Souter; and entertainer Ricky Martin.

The mood was more festive outside the court, where a small crowd cheered when she and Roberts, having shed their robes, took the traditional walk down the court's white marble steps. Roberts left her for a moment in the spotlight by herself as photographers clicked away. She resisted appeals from reporters -- delivered in both English and Spanish -- that she make remarks.

"Tell me when you've had enough," she told reporters with a smile. After posing with her mother, stepfather, brother and sister-in-law, she waved and accompanied them inside, where a private reception waited.

"Bye, guys," she said.

The court's first Latina and third woman will participate in her first hearing Wednesday, when justices hear arguments about the constitutionality of federal and state laws that restrict the role of corporations in election campaigns.

After she spent much of her confirmation hearings pledging respect for the court's precedents, her first decision will be whether two of the court's decisions on the subject should be overruled.

Robert Barnes will be online Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. Eastern time for a live discussion about the Supreme Court. Go to www.washingtonpost.com/discussions.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company