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Obama judges Sonia supreme

Having whittled down a list of 40 candidates, President Obama finally settled on Sonia Sotomayor, “the child of Puerto Rican parents who went from public housing to Princeton”, to replace David Souter on the US Supreme Court bench.

Slate’s John Dickerson examines just how Obama reached the decision:

He studied the work of all three finalists. He read many of Sotomayor’s opinions as well as material collected by his staff—interviews with former clerks and lawyers who had argued before her. We are also told that the president followed the model of self-examination he uses in all of his big decisions to avoid groupthink. He rigorously “tested his assumptions” on Sotomayor, says an aide, including asking the staff to “make the case against her.”

The result of such perigrination is a good pick, writes Erwin Chemerinsky in the New Republic, both politically and because she should be an “outstanding justice” for the Supreme Court. From a political perspective, he writes, Sotomayor’s record shows her to be a moderate liberal. But more than that, the fact that she was first nominated to the federal bench by a Republican president, George H.W. Bush, “will make it harder for Republicans to paint her as an ideologue.”

Though who knows what will happen once she’s got the gavel in her hand? After all Souter, hand-picked by the Republicans to stack the Supreme Court, turned out to be more liberal than anticipated. That in effect gave the liberal bloc four votes, wrote Guy Rundle for Crikey earlier in May, “and was the final nail in the coffin of the Republicans’ attempt to get a solid conservative majority on the bench.”

But conservative blogger Michelle Malkin thinks the decision is a case of  “identity politics triumphs”, arguing the White House is pushing the “compelling personal story” angle hard.”

Perhaps Obama is simply trying to present her as human. In a CSpan interview over the weekend before confirming Sotomayor’s nomination, Obama spoke of seeking someone “highly qualified”, “committed to fidelity to the law” but also with “a sense of how the American people live … empathy is an important quality”.  He cited the decision made in the Lilly Ledbetter case — where a former Goodyear Tire employee was denied back pay because she had failed to file a discrimination suit within the statute of limitations (even though she could not have known of the discrimination earlier) — as an example where legal reasoning had, in his opinion, outwitted fairness and common sense.

Of course this is America, so Sotomayor’s views on abortion are integral to how she will be seen as a judge. And in this respect, she’s still an unknown quantity, explains Scott Horton in The Daily Beast. This is partly because, although she went to a Catholic School, no-one’s quite sure yet whether she’s religious. The only hint as to her views on abortion is that “nothing in Sotomayor’s writings or speeches suggests that orthodox Catholic doctrine plays a significant role in her legal thinking as it does with others currently on the Supreme Court.”

The Weekly Standard’s Fred Barnes doesn’t appear to have anything particularly damning on Sotomayor either (yet), but raises the possibility of skeletons in the closet, saying:

…it’s not over yet. High court nominees who look unassailable on the day they’re nominated sometimes crash and burn even before they’re voted on. And that includes nominees with more impressive credentials than Sotomayor…

Things turn up. No matter how extensively an administration investigates a nominee, it can’t look into everything. Meanwhile, the national visibility of a Supreme Court nominee, like that of a presidential candidate or a Cabinet pick, has a way of bringing out damning information from detractors who otherwise wouldn’t get involved.

The New York Law Journal analyses potential minefields for the judge, while taking a look through her case history. She’s most famous for effectively ending the Major League Baseball players’ strike in 1995 when, “after scolding the lawyers for baseball club owners, she granted an injunction sought by the National Labor Relations Board.”

Sotomayor could be good for business — if not plaintiffs — says Nathan Koppel in WSJ’s Law blog:

…she has ruled in favor of corporate defendants in some key cases, say lawyers who have practiced before her. The judge, for example, has sided with defendants in cases involving the standards that govern when cases can be brought as a class actions and the extent to which plaintiffs’ claims can be preempted by more defense-friendly federal or international laws.

Some further reading:

  • Sotomayor’s greatest hits -- Hot Air
  • A timeline of Sonia Sotomayor’s life — New York Times
  • Why does Sotomayor want us to think she’s ordinary? —   Samantha Hennig, Double X
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  • 1
    JamesK
    Posted Wednesday, 27 May 2009 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

    Maybe the US will get lucky and Sotomayor will to be as far ‘liberal’ in her judgements as David Souter’s proved to be ‘conservative’.

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