With President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden watching, new Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor formally took her seat on the Court Tuesday afternoon as Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. wished her a "long and happy career in our common calling." A beaming Sotomayor, joined in the courtroom by family, friends and a star-studded list of legal heavyweights, said, "Thank you" and the brief but historic investiture ceremony was over.
Minutes later, having shed their black judicial robes, Sotomayor and Roberts walked out of the front door of the Court in business clothes and down its marble stairs to give press photographers one of their last chances to snap her picture before she takes up the work of the mainly camera-shy institution.
Sotomayor stood awkwardly by herself on the marble plaza as the camera shutters snapped, until her close family members joined her. "Tell me when you've had enough," she said to the press. Spanish-speaking journalists tried to get her to make a comment in Spanish, but without success. After a few minutes, she and her family members walked back into the Court for a private reception. Security was especially tight because of the presence of the president and vice-president.
During the ceremony the Court chamber was packed with D.C. officialdom as Roberts gave Sotomayor the judicial oath -- the third time she has been sworn in -- and Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. presented the parchment commission, signed by Obama, that makes her appointment official. As the Court session began, Roberts welcomed Obama and Biden to the Court, and also welcomed Sotomayor and her predecessor David Souter who also attended.
Among those spotted in the audience were former Attorneys General John Ashcroft, Benjamin Civiletti and Richard Thornburgh, current White House counsel Gregory Craig, Solicitor General Elena Kagan and a slew of her predecessors including: Gregory Garre, Theodore Olson, Seth Waxman, Walter Dellinger and Drew Days III. Former Court officials going back as far as Mark Cannon, the administrative assistant to the late Chief Justice Warren Burger, also attended, as did many leaders of the Hispanic political and legal community. Among them: Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., Rep. Jose Serrano, D-N.Y., and Carlos Ortiz, former president of the Hispanic National Bar Association and longtime advocate of naming a Hispanic to the Supreme Court.
Sotomayor's seat, the one reserved for the junior justice, is at the right end of the winged bench of the Court as spectators face it, and several of the other justices occupy new seats as a result. Next to Sotomayor is Stephen Breyer, then Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia, with Roberts keeping the middle chair as chief. To Roberts' right is Justice John Paul Stevens, then Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and finally Samuel Alito Jr. Alito, the second most junior justice, occupies the seat at the far left -- a position disfavored by justices because it is so close to the press section.
This article first appeared on The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times.