May 27, 2009

Who is Supreme Court Nominee Sonia Sotomayor?

By Chuck Missler

President Obama's first US Supreme Court nomination, Judge Sonia Sotomayor, has a richly inspiring personal story. Raised by a widowed mother in the Bronx projects, Sotomayor rose from her humble beginnings to serve for a decade on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, and may soon become the nation's third female and first Hispanic Supreme Court justice. Judge Sotomayor's history is not irrelevant to her quality as a judge; we all pull from our experiences when making important decisions. The big question is, how does Sotomayor process controversial issues and what does her voting record tell us about the types of decisions she makes?

Sonia Sotomayor's father died when she was nine-years-old, yet Sotomayor's mother worked six-days-per-week in order to send her two children to Catholic school. Sotomayor attended Princeton University, where she graduated summa cum laude, and then went onto Yale Law School, where she became editor of the Yale Law Journal. President Bush (41) nominated Sotomayor to the federal court in 1991 and she was promoted to the appeals court for the Second Circuit in 1997 by President Clinton. Now, at age 54, Sotomayor is in position to take her seat on the most powerful court in the land.

Liberals say that Sotomayor is a brilliant woman who is hardly a radical, and will likely vote much the same as David Hackett Souter, whose seat she will fill after his retirement.

Conservatives want to know how Sotomayor will approach the Constitution. She concerned conservatives by a statement she made when speaking at Duke University, saying,
"All of the legal defense funds out there, they're looking for people with court of appeals experience" because "the court of appeals is where policy is made."
That statement presented her as a judicial activist.

In explanation, Sotomayor answered her critics by saying,
"On the Court of Appeals, you are looking to how the law is developing so that it will then be applied to a broad class of cases. So you are always thinking about the ramifications of this ruling on the next step in the development of the law." She clarified that judges "don't make law."
Constitutional Originalists are still wary.
"Americans want the Supreme Court to make decisions based on the Constitution and not on some lawless standard that puts identity politics before the law," Judicial Watch said in a statement. "There is no room on the Supreme Court for someone who will put her feeling and politics above the rule of law."
Whether Sotomayor will follow the words of the Constitution - or whether she will try to bend the Constitution to her will - is the question people want answered. The best way to know her, though, is to look at the decisions she's made in the past. Sotomayor's substantial number of years as a judge give America plenty to sift through to understand what sort of jurist she will be.

Election Law: In Gelb v Board of Elections Sotomayor ruled in favor of write-in voting on ballots. She was the first federal judge to do so, writing that "states cannot structure elections in a manner that favors candidates of established parties."

Affirmative Action: In a famous case, which has since gone to the US Supreme Court (Ricci v. DeStefano), Sotomayor voted to side with the city of New Haven when it threw out standardized tests for firefighter advancement because too few minorities were able to pass it. The City decided to scrap the test because its results would have had a "disparate impact" on minorities, and there was concern about lawsuits over employment discrimination. In a fiercely split decision, Sotomayor voted in favor of the city and against the white firefighters who said their rights were violated.

First Amendment: Yet, in Pappas v. Giuliani, Sotomayor voted to uphold the free speech rights of a NYPD employee who sent out racist materials through the mail on his own time. She argued that the NYPD could not terminate the employee, because he retained his First Amendment rights outside of work even if his speech was "offensive, hateful, and insulting."

Fourth Amendment: In N.G. ex rel. S.G. v. Connecticut, Sotomayor voted against the strip searching of troubled adolescent girls at juvenile detention centers, and disagreed with the majority in doing so. She agreed that some of the strip searches had been lawful, but due to their severity, they should not be allowed "in the absence of individualized suspicion, of adolescents who have never been charged with a crime."

On the other hand, Sotomayor voted in Leventhal v. Knapek that a DOT employee's rights were not violated when his employer searched his computer, because the employer had reasonable grounds to suspect "work-related misconduct."

Abortion: In Center for Reproductive Law and Policy v. Bush, Sotomayor voted in favor of President Bush's Mexico City Policy and against abortion rights groups. She argued that the government "is free to favor the anti-abortion position over the pro-choice position, and can do so with public funds." According to LifeNews, Sotomayor is "[t]he only potential Supreme Court justice who may provide hope for pro-life advocates." Sotomayor has never decided a case on the constitutionality of abortion itself.

George Pavia, a New York lawyer representing major Italian clients called Sotomayor "liberal" 25 years ago, saying, "She is liberal, as am I," Pavia said. "Liberal without being a flaming type of do-gooder or anything of the sort. To call her a centrist would not be accurate. To call her wild-eyed would also not be accurate. She is far too rational, far too interested in the underlying facts."

The US Senate will do more to dig into the character and history of Judge Sotomayor, and will make the final decision on her confirmation. In the meanwhile, her success in rising from fatherless child in the Bronx to US Supreme Court nominee deserves congratulations.

Related Links

Obama Picks Sotomayor, Citing Intellect - The New York Times
Pro-Life Group Details Pro-Abortion Views of Likely Obama Supreme Court Picks - Life News
For Sotomayor, Humble Beginnings to High Court Pick - The Washington Post
Obama Nominates Judge Sonia Sotomayor for Supreme Court Justice - Fox News
Sotomayor Has Very Good Record in Election Law - Ballot Access News