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US Civil Liberties

Nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to Supreme Court

Project: US Civil Liberties
Open-Content project managed by Paul, KJF, mtuck, paxvector

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Appeals Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor delivers a lecture at the University of California at Berkeley School of Law. Sotomayor, whose parents are Puerto Rican, speaks on the subject of Hispanics in the judiciary and her own experience as a Latina (Hispanic woman) jurist. After noting the tremendous cultural and ethnic diversity among Hispanics, and citing the ascension of increasing numbers of Hispanics and women to the judiciary, Sotomayor addresses the issue of judges acting without regard for their ethnic heritage or gender. “[J]udges must transcend their personal sympathies and prejudices and aspire to achieve a greater degree of fairness and integrity based on the reason of law,” she says, and notes that while she tries to aspire to that goal: “I wonder whether achieving that goal is possible in all or even in most cases. And I wonder whether by ignoring our differences as women or men of color we do a disservice both to the law and society. Whatever the reasons why we may have different perspectives, either as some theorists suggest because of our cultural experiences or as others postulate because we have basic differences in logic and reasoning, are in many respects a small part of a larger practical question we as women and minority judges in society in general must address. I accept the thesis… that in any group of human beings there is a diversity of opinion because there is both a diversity of experiences and of thought.… I further accept that our experiences as women and people of color affect our decisions. The aspiration to impartiality is just that—it’s an aspiration because it denies the fact that we are by our experiences making different choices than others.” She adds: “Justice [Sandra Day] O’Connor has often been cited as saying that a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases.… I am also not so sure that I agree with the statement. First… there can never be a universal definition of wise. Second, 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. Let us not forget that wise men like Oliver Wendell Holmes and Justice [Benjamin] Cardozo voted on cases which upheld both sex and race discrimination in our society. Until 1972, no Supreme Court case ever upheld the claim of a woman in a gender discrimination case. I… believe that we should not be so myopic as to believe that others of different experiences or backgrounds are incapable of understanding the values and needs of people from a different group. Many are so capable.… However, to understand takes time and effort, something that not all people are willing to give. For others, their experiences limit their ability to understand the experiences of others. Other simply do not care. Hence, one must accept the proposition that a difference there will be by the presence of women and people of color on the bench.” [National Council of La Raza Law Journal, 10/2001; ABC News, 10/26/2001 pdf file; New York Times, 5/14/2009] After Sotomayor is nominated to the Supreme Court (see May 26, 2009), many critics will use this speech to accuse her of racism (see May 26, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 27, 2009, May 28, 2009, and June 3, 2009).

Entity Tags: University of California at Berkeley School of Law, Sonia Sotomayor, US Supreme Court

Category Tags: Sotomayor Nomination

The announcement that Supreme Court Justice David Souter is retiring is already sparking a tremendous fundraising effort among conservative opposition groups, according to the Congressional Quarterly. “This is a nuclear weapon for the conservatives out there,” says conservative fundraiser Dan Morgan. “When you do fundraising, there’s an emotional component in this, and boy the emotion is there magnified times 100.” President Obama is expected to choose a replacement for Souter who is somewhat left of center, a choice that will be portrayed by right-wing groups as a threat to their positions on abortion, gun rights, gay marriage, and property rights, among other “hot-button” social and legal issues (see May 26, 2009). The upshot: lots of money gathered to oppose Obama’s prospective nominee. “Although Souter may be a more difficult case to make as his voting record is center-left, it does open the door for discussion of who, and how left a replacement, President Obama may choose,” says veteran Republican fundraiser Linus Catignani. “It also gives clarity to the power of the presidency and generates lots of chatter regarding the fact that Obama may make up to four replacements in short order. That obviously paints a very scary picture for many conservatives.” Catignani says that when conservative Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito (see September 29, 2005 and October 31, 2005 - February 1, 2006) were nominated, Republican fundraisers used them as touchstones for their efforts to gather money—that time in the interest of promoting and defending the nominees. Democrats used their nominations to raise funds in opposition, much as Republicans are doing now, and Democrats will use the nomination to raise funds in defense of Obama’s nominee. Souter’s replacement will energize and invigorate a flagging and dispirited conservative base, says former Democratic National Committee Chairman Steve Grossman. “This can be a catalyst properly handled that can get people back into a sense of stakeholdership.” It can also be used to energize Democrats to fund efforts to thwart the Republicans’ own efforts to derail the nomination. Morgan says: “The Supreme Court is great. That’s going to be mail, that’s going to be phone calls. The clients I work with are in meetings already. There are letters being written already.” [Congressional Quarterly, 5/1/2009]

Entity Tags: Linus Catignani, Barack Obama, David Souter, Sonia Sotomayor, Dan Morgan, Steve Grossman, US Supreme Court

Category Tags: Sotomayor Nomination

New Republic legal correspondent Jeffrey Rosen, a law professor at George Washington University, writes an analysis of appeals court judge Sonia Sotomayor, considered by many to be a leading candidate to replace retiring Justice David Souter on the Supreme Court.
Rose from Poverty to Consideration for High Court - Rosen gives a brief biographical sketch of Sotomayor, whom he labels as a “compelling” candidate both for her legal accomplishments and her life story. Sotomayor is the daughter of poor Puerto Rican immigrants, grew up in the South Bronx, and graduated with high academic honors from Princeton and Yale. She has served as a prosecutor, a corporate litigator, and a judge. If nominated and confirmed, Sotomayor would be the Court’s first Hispanic member and only its third female member. She has the support of both New York senators, Democrats Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand.
Conflicting Opinions Largely from Anonymous Sources - Rosen notes that her former clerks praise her as “demanding but thoughtful” and “commit[ted] to legal fairness,” a “rule-bound pragmatist—very geared toward determining what the right answer is and what the law dictates, but her general approach is, unsurprisingly, influenced by her unique background.” Rosen quotes several anonymous sources—“nearly all… former law clerks… or former federal prosecutors in New York”—who, he says, question “her temperament, her judicial craftsmanship, and most of all, her ability to provide an intellectual counterweight to the conservative justices, as well as a clear liberal alternative.” According to one former law clerk, Sotomayor is “not that smart and kind of a bully on the bench,” egotistical, and “domineering.” In contrast, one of his named sources, fellow Second Circuit appeals court judge Jose Cabranes, said of her, “She is not intimidated or overwhelmed by the eminence or power or prestige of any party, or indeed of the media.” Anonymous sources tell Rosen that Sotomayor is more apt to quibble with a colleague’s grammar and syntax rather than the focus of their legal arguments. Another former clerk praises Sotomayor for being tough-minded and “impressive.” Rosen admits that he has not read enough of Sotomayor’s opinions “to have a confident sense of them,” nor has he “talked to enough of Sotomayor’s detractors and supporters, to get a fully balanced picture of her strengths. It’s possible that the former clerks and former prosecutors I talked to have an incomplete picture of her abilities. But they’re not motivated by sour grapes or by ideological disagreement—they’d like the most intellectually powerful and politically effective liberal justice possible. And they think that Sotomayor, although personally and professionally impressive, may not meet that demanding standard.” Rosen concludes that President Obama would be taking an unnecessary “gamble” by nominating her to the high court. [New Republic, 5/4/2009]
Repercussions of Analysis - Rosen’s column triggers several demeaning characterizations of Sotomayor in the conservative press (see May 4, 2009 and May 5, 2009), characterizations that will intensify when she is nominated for the Court (see May 26, 2009). His use of anonymous sources to base his negative coverage will be repudiated by a number of critics (see May 5, 2009).

Entity Tags: Charles Schumer, Kirsten Gillibrand, Sonia Sotomayor, US Supreme Court, Jose Cabranes, Jeffrey Rosen

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Sotomayor Nomination

Mark Hemingway of the conservative National Review uses law professor Jeffrey Rosen’s analysis of prospective Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 4, 2009) to call her “dumb and obnoxious.” [National Review, 5/4/2009] Fellow Review columnist John Derbyshire responds to Hemingway’s slam by writing: “Judge Sotomayor may indeed be dumb and obnoxious; but she’s also female and Hispanic, and those are the things that count nowadays. Get with the program, Pal.” [National Review, 5/4/2009] Less than a month later, Sotomayor will be nominated to the Court (see May 26, 2009). After her nomination, Hemingway will attempt to backtrack from his characterizations of Sotomayor, claiming: “I never ‘attacked’ Sotomayor. I was only characterizing what Jeffrey Rosen wrote.” [National Review, 5/26/2009]

Entity Tags: Jeffrey Rosen, Sonia Sotomayor, US Supreme Court, John Derbyshire, Mark Hemingway

Category Tags: Sotomayor Nomination, Media Involvement and Responses

Barack Obama and Sonia Sotomayor during the nomination announcement.Barack Obama and Sonia Sotomayor during the nomination announcement. [Source: Associated Press]President Obama nominates Second Circuit Appeals Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor as his candidate to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice David Souter (see May 1, 2009). Sotomayor is a Hispanic woman from an underprivileged background with a stellar academic record and an extensive legal background, having served as a prosecutor, a corporate lawyer, and a judge for 17 years, having been first appointed to the bench by former President George H. W. Bush. She is expected to receive heavy support from Democrats. Republicans say they are waiting for more information to decide whether to mount organized opposition. Political observers say such a move would be chancy for Republicans, who need to attract more support from Hispanic and female voters. Obama calls Sotomayor a judge with an impressive intellect and a great capacity for empathy, and a jurist who renders judgments with “an understanding of how the world works and how ordinary people live.” He notes that Sotomayor has more legal experience than any currently sitting justice had when they ascended to the high court. Sotomayor would be the first Hispanic and the third woman to serve on the Court. Sotomayor is considered more or less ideologically consistent with the moderate-to-liberal Souter, and thus would not change the court’s ideological makeup. The Obama administration says it wants Sotomayor approved in time for the Court’s October session. In her acceptance speech, Sotomayor says of herself, “I am an ordinary person who has been blessed with extraordinary opportunities and experiences.” Of her position as a jurist, she says she is driven first and foremost by the rule of law and the principles laid down in the Constitution. “Those principles,” she says, “are as meaningful and relevant in each generation as the generation before.” Sotomayor was chosen over three other short-listed finalists: fellow appellate court judge Diane Wood, Solicitor General Elena Kagan, and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. It is likely that one or more of the people on the list may become nominated to the court as well: Justice John Paul Stevens is 89 years old, and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 76, suffers from pancreatic cancer. [Associated Press, 5/26/2009; CNN, 5/26/2009] In response to the nomination, Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele says: “Republicans look forward to learning more about… Sotomayor’s thoughts on the importance of the Supreme Court’s fidelity to the Constitution and the rule of law. Supreme Court vacancies are rare, which makes Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination a perfect opportunity for America to have a thoughtful discussion about the role of the Supreme Court in our daily lives. Republicans will reserve judgment on Sonia Sotomayor until there has been a thorough and thoughtful examination of her legal views.” [Think Progress, 5/26/2009]

Entity Tags: Elena Kagan, Barack Obama, Diane T. Wood, Sonia Sotomayor, Michael Steele, David Souter, US Supreme Court, Janet Napolitano

Category Tags: Sotomayor Nomination

Gun rights advocates’ attempts to portray Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009) as “anti-gun” hit a snag when a panel of conservative judges upholds her ruling in favor of restricting gun ownership. Sotomayor has been called an “anti-gun radical” by some activists for joining an opinion, cited in Maloney v. Cuomo, that found the Second Amendment does not prevent state and local governments from restricting arms ownership. That ruling, rejecting a challenge to Chicago’s tough gun laws, was unanimously upheld by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which is made up largely of conservative judges. The ruling could, according to the Washington Post, “complicate efforts to portray Sotomayor as a judicial activist trying to undermine the Supreme Court’s landmark decision last year holding that the amendment protects the right to own a gun for self-defense.” The Seventh Circuit’s opinion was written by chief judge Frank Easterbrook, described by the Post as “one of the nation’s leading conservative judges,” and joined by two Republican-appointed judges, including “conservative favorite Richard A. Posner.” Walter Dellinger, who argued a related case and supports Sotomayor’s nomination, says, “When two of the most highly regarded, conservative judges agree that courts of appeal should not reach out and make new law on this issue, it renders Judge Sotomayor’s opinion on this subject beyond criticism.” But some continue their opposition. David Kopel, a lawyer who has criticized Sotomayor’s stance on gun ownership, says the ruling will not change the views of gun activists that she is “anti-gun” and the Maloney opinion was intellectually “dishonest.” [Washington Post, 6/3/2009]

Entity Tags: Sonia Sotomayor, David Kopel, US Supreme Court, Frank Easterbrook, Walter Dellinger, Richard A. Posner

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Gun Rights, Sotomayor Nomination

Sonia Sotomayor, left, is sworn in as a Supreme Court Justice by Chief Justice John Roberts, right. Her mother, Celina Sotomayor, and her brother, Juan Luis Sotomayor, look on.Sonia Sotomayor, left, is sworn in as a Supreme Court Justice by Chief Justice John Roberts, right. Her mother, Celina Sotomayor, and her brother, Juan Luis Sotomayor, look on. [Source: New York Times]The US Senate confirms Judge Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009) as Supreme Court Justice in a 68-31 vote. Nine Republicans and 59 Democrats vote for her confirmation (four of the Republicans who voted to confirm her are retiring from the Senate after the completion of their terms, and will not face questions about their vote during re-election battles). Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA), who supports Sotomayor, did not vote due to illness. Sotomayor will be sworn in by Chief Justice John Roberts on August 8. President Obama says he is “deeply gratified” by the Senate vote, and adds, “This is a wonderful day for Judge Sotomayor and her family, but I also think it’s a wonderful day for America.” Senator Patrick Leahy closed the final day of debate over Sotomayor’s confirmation by saying: “It is distinctively American to continually refine our union, moving us closer to our ideals. Our union is not yet perfected, but with this confirmation, we will be making progress.… Years from now, we will remember this time, when we crossed paths with the quintessentially American journey of Sonia Sotomayor, and when our nation took another step forward through this historic confirmation process.” At a watch party in the Washington Court Hotel, when the final tally is announced, supporters begin chanting, “Si, se puerde,” the Spanish translation of the 2008 Obama campaign slogan of “Yes, we can.” [CNN, 8/6/2009; New York Times, 8/6/2009]

Entity Tags: Sonia Sotomayor, Barack Obama, Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, US Senate, John G. Roberts, Jr, Patrick J. Leahy

Category Tags: Sotomayor Nomination

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