In picking Sonia Sotomayor to fill the Souter seat, Obama knows what he is getting: a reliable liberal vote and someone who will probably be easily confirmed. That she is reliably liberal is obvious from her rulings. That she will be easily confirmed is clear from the fact that she is a Latina and the Republicans do not wish to offend this powerful voting block. She is not shy about playing the race card: ” 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.” This was in a lecture given by the judge in 2001, and the full text of the speech is here. Needless to say any wasp male judge who said the reverse would never have been nominated, and also needless to say Judge Sotomayor will pay absolutely no price for claiming that she is a better judge because of her ethnic background and her sex. Hattip to the Volokh Conspiracy.
The White House has sent out talking points to Latino law professors, and, courtesy of Powerline, they are here for you to read.
Judge Sotomayor was raised Catholic but there is some indication that she no longer practices the Faith. Father Z, as always ever on the job, discusses the Catholic aspect of the appointment here. The give away line from the White House: “Judge Sotomayor was raised as a Catholic and attends church for family celebrations and other important events.” Father Z views this choice as partially an attempt by the Obama White House to divide Catholics. “I am pretty sure that, among other motives, this is also part of a conscious agenda. This White House, and those who seek to be its satraps, are doing their best to subvert institutions and some high profile public Catholic figures in order to drive a wedge between different groups of Catholics. They especially want to cleave off the strong Catholic bishops from the rest of the squishy Americanized Church. They do so by seeming to embrace an important but logically secondary set of common objectives so as to neutralize the deeper foundations of a true Catholic influence in the public square.”
Here, once again courtesy of Powerline, are comments about Sotomayor from attorneys who have appeared in front of her. The short version is that she is smart, but not brilliant, and something of a tyrant on the bench. I am familiar with that type of jurist. They can be trying but not so nearly as trying as a jerk in a black robe who is stupid to boot. I hasten to add that all judges I appear before are very nice, brilliant individuals. (Just in case any of you Honorable guys and gals end up reading this!)
So Obama will end up with a liberal justice who dabbles, to say the least, in identity politics. How could it have been worse from my perspective, that of a pro-life conservative?
1. The choice could have been Diane Wood, a judge of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, my stomping grounds. Judge Wood is quite simply a pro-abortion fanatic. I was afraid that Obama would give her the nod and I was relieved that she wasn’t picked.
2. We have the case of Center for Reproductive Law and Policy v. Bush, 304 F3d 183 (2002 2nd Cir.) where Judge Sotomayor wrote the opinion affirming the dismissal of the suit brought by the Plaintiff attempting to block the “Mexico City” policy of the Bush administration which banned funds from international organizations which performed abortions or promoted abortions. The text of the decision is here. The decision is a good workmanlike application of the relevant law and case law. Do not read too much into it. I have absolutely no doubt that Sotomayor will be a predictable vote to uphold Roe. However, this decision does indicate to me that where the law is clear Sotomayor may be inclined to follow it rather than to ignore it in favor of her own preferences. On the other hand there is a world of difference between being a federal appellate judge and being a member of the Supreme Court, where justices often view themselves quite differently than when they were laboring in lower judicial vinyards.
3. She is not brilliant and there is some evidence of a brittle personality on the bench. This might indicate a limited ability to persuade other Justices to her point of view. It also perhaps indicates that she might be cross-grained enough that perhaps she will show some independence which might unpleasantly surprise some of her current supporters in at least a few cases.
These of course are just preliminary thoughts. Judge Sotomayor has been on the federal bench since 1992 and there are lots of cases to wade through before definite judgments can be made about her judicial philosophy.