Judge Sotomayor


By Joe Campbell
June 1st, 2009

My opinion of Judge Sotomayor hasn’t changed much since last week’s announcement. The right-wingers attempts to tar her as a racist bug me. But not all that much. The particular sentence they keep repeating is – without context a racist remark:

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. [my emphasis]

Within the speech she was giving though – when she made this remark – she seemed to be making a similar, but different point:

I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would as often as not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.

It does seem – as Barack Obama said – that her original speech contained one sentence that was poorly phrased to convey the point she was making.

I agree with the many out there who think the right-wingers are hurting the Republican Party by making Sotomayor’s nomination about race.

The two areas that might potentially trouble me about Sotomayor are in the areas of executive power and civil libertarianism. She’s probably in the mainstream of the conservative/liberal consensus on these issues – which is an improvement over the right-wing extremism on these issues evident in Judge Roberts and Judge Alito. But I am not sure where within this conservative/liberal consensus she stands.

Sotomayor’s ruling the “douchebag” case – though it is certainly possible to view her deference to the school’s position as a judicial modesty which I can support. But I think the role of Courts in checking the increasing power of corporations, schools, and other semi-voluntary organizations to monitor and police the private activities of citizens is going to gradually become a big issue. That Sotomayor signed onto an opinion then that allowed the restriction of free speech on a non-school affiliated blog because calling administrators “douchebags” presented a “foreseeable risk of substantial disruption” is a matter of concern.

On the issue of executive power, Sotomayor’s record is thin. As Charlie Savage wrote in the New York Times:

[T]he effect on presidential power could be pivotal. Important rulings on executive authority — striking down military commissions and upholding habeas corpus rights for Guantánamo detainees — have been decided by a five-vote majority, including Justice Souter, on the nine-member court.

“Given that the decisions have generally been 5-4 in this area, this could be terribly consequential,” said David Golove, a New York University law professor. “We’re losing one of the court’s strongest leaders on the side of limiting executive power to reasonable bounds. If the person who replaces Souter is different than him, the balance of power may shift.”

The article was written before Sotomayor was nominated – but Savage briefly outlined her record in this area:

[O]ne person near the top of Mr. Obama’s short list — Judge Sonia Sotomayorof the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit — has never worked in the federal executive branch and sits on a court that hears few executive power cases.

These issues – of executive power, war powers, of state secrets, of torture, and of national security in general – are becoming the new culture war. And it is a front in which the Court must take a strong position. I await the hearings to see what Sotomayor has to say on the issue – although I presume she will be as careful in her answers on this issue as past nominees have been on abortion.