Opponents already decrying Sotomayor as justice choice

By A. James Memmott

May 26, 2009 at 10:15am

As soon as word leaked out Tuesday morning that Sonia Sotomayor, a federal judge, would be President Barack Obama’s pick to fill a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court, opposition voices spoke out.

“Judge Sotomayor is a liberal judicial activist of the first order who thinks her own personal political agenda is more important than the law as written,” said Wendy E. Long, a fromer law clerk for Justice Clarence Thomas and the counsel to the Judicial Confirmation Network, as quoted in The New York Times.

However, other court observers have noted that Sotomayor, 54, may be hard to label as a liberal activist, and that her confirmation by the U.S. Senate, given the dominance of Democrats there, is likely.

If confirmed, Sotomayor, who sits on U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, would be the third woman and the first Hispanic-American to be a member of the court. She would replace Justice David H. Souter, who is retiring.

According to the Times, Obama told Sotomayor of his decision at 9 p.m. Monday.

He then called the three other finalists, Judge Diane P. Wood of the U.S. Court Appeals of the Seventh Circuit in Chicago, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Solicitor General Elena Kagan.

In announcing his decision, Obama stressed that a justice had to have “mastery of the law,” but that it was important, too, that a justice knew “how the world works and how ordinary people live.”

Earlier, Obama had said he would look for a nominee who had “empathy,” someone “who understands that justice isn’t about some abstract legal theory or footnote in a casebook.”

Conservatives have taken exception to his term, saying it is a code word for judicial activism.

The use of empathy as a criterion led some people to speculate that Obama might pick someone who came from the political world, someone like former Chief Justice Earl Warren who had been governor of California before coming to the court.

Sotomayor, whose parents were born in Puerto Rico, has never run for public office, but she has dealt with adversity in her life.

A year after she was diagnosed with diabetes at age 8, Sotomayor’s father died. Her mother, a nurse, then raised Sotomayor and her brother, now a physician, on her own in a Bronx housing project.

In her remarks after Obama had introduced her, Sotomayor gave special thanks to her mother. She also stressed that her life experience and her legal and judicial career had given her a variety of perspectives on the consequences of judicial decisions.

A graduate of Princeton University and Yale Law School, Sotomayor was an assistant district attorney in Manhattan for five years before entering private practice.

In late 1991, President George H.W. Bush nominated her to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Second District. The Senate confirmed her in August 1992.

Her most publicized decision on that court came in 1995 when she ruled on the side of Major League baseball players, ending the baseball strike that had begun the previous year.

In June 1997, President Bill Clinton nominated Sotomayor to the seat she now occupies on the U.S. Court of Appeals. The Senate confirmed her a year later.

At that time, some Republicans faulted Sotomayor for being an “activist” judge, but she also had the support of some conservatives in the Senate.

She has said that her life experience can lend perspective to her judicial decisions.

“I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life,” Sotomayor said in 2002, according to the Times.

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  • #1.   Scott Huminski 05.26.2009

    I litigated before Sotomayor, Huminski v. Haverkoch 11/5/04, 03-7036 2d. Cir.. Aside from ignoring the facts and applicable law, Sotomayor could not even get the standard of review correct. It was De Novo (cross motions for summary judgment) not reversible error as Sotomayor found. Law school 101 flunk-out. Dangerous jurist. In the same case she also blessed a prosecutor’s acceptance of a bribe. — scott

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