Sonia Sotomayor became the 111th Supreme Court justice in the nation’s history on Saturday, taking an oath to “administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich.”
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. administered the oath in a ceremonial conference room at the Supreme Court before a small gathering of Sotomayor’s family and friends and several White House aides who had worked for her confirmation.
Roberts said the special swearing-in was arranged for a quiet morning so that Sotomayor could “begin her work as an associate justice without delay.”
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy was the only other member of the court in attendance.
The new justice hugged her mother, Celina, who held the Bible for her, and then her brother, Juan Sotomayor.
Sotomayor actually took two oaths Saturday, both of which are required of federal judges.
She first took the constitutional oath required of all federal officers. She pledged to “support and defend the Constitution” and to “well and faithfully discharge the duties” of her office. This oath was given in a private ceremony in the justices’ conference room before the chief justice, Justice Kennedy and Sotomayor’s immediate family members.
The judicial oath was taken before the larger gathering in the East Conference Room, and, in a Supreme Court first, television cameras were there to broadcast it.
White House Counsel Greg Craig and Assistant Counsel Cynthia Hogan witnessed the swearing-in, along with Judge Robert Katzmann of the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals -- on which Sotomayor served -- and Rep. Nydia M. Velazquez (D-N.Y.).
The judicial oath is familiar to Sotomayor. She had taken it twice before, as a federal district judge in 1992 and as a U.S. Court of Appeals judge in 1998. In her Senate hearings, several of her Republican critics recited passages of the oath that call for doing “justice without respect to persons.” They suggested, using President Obama’s word, that she might feel “empathy” for certain people and might rule in their favor on that basis.
Sotomayor replied that she had always been guided by the law, not personal sympathies.
In the past, some justices have taken the oaths at the White House, rather than at the court. Roberts took both oaths at the White House from senior Justice John Paul Stevens on Sept. 29, 2005.
Later, Stevens was quoted as saying that he thought it was inappropriate for justices to take the oaths at the White House standing before the president, because it suggested a link to the executive branch, rather than emphasizing the judicial branch’s autonomy.
Sotomayor is not done with ceremonial welcomes. She is to be introduced at a White House reception Wednesday, and the Supreme Court plans an investiture ceremony Sept. 8.