WASHINGTON – Much of the debate about Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor has centered on statements she made outside of court.
When her confirmation hearings begin Monday,senators are also likely to ask questions about her decisions as a judge. This article examines what legal analysts have said about her record in five key areas.
The American Civil Liberties Union found Sotomayor's decisions displayed “a detailed attention to the facts and a close regard for precedent.”
The Alliance for Justice,an association of several liberal advocacy groups,reached a similar conclusion in a series of five reports on Sotomayor's record. The neutral Congressional Research Service agreed,adding that Sotomayor doesn't seem to like courts overstepping their role.
Andrew Grossman,the Heritage Foundation's senior legal policy analyst,said his organization's review has created “a lot of concern that what we would call empathy greatly influenced her decisions.”
The Alliance for Justice called the judge a “strong defender of First Amendment free speech rights.”
The Congressional Research Service said it could not “discern a particular ideology” from her decisions. It saw her attention to detail and precedent as the only visible pattern in First Amendment cases.
Both groups drew attention to Sotomayor's dissent in Pappas v. Giuliani,in which a police officer was fired for making racist statements. Because the statements were made when the officer,who did desk work,was off duty,Sotomayor defended his free speech rights,although she called the speech “patently hateful,offensive and insulting.”
Representatives of the Heritage Foundation and the Committee for Justice expressed concerns with Sotomayor's Second Amendment record,citing Maloney v. Rice. In that case,Sotomayor joined a panel of judges in upholding New York's right to limit weapons ownership.
The Congressional Research Service said it was hard to draw conclusions from a single case,simply noting that courts have been divided over whether the Second Amendment applies to the states. Sotomayor and the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled it did not.
The ACLU report says the decision “cannot fairly be read as any indication about Judge Sotomayor's views on the Second Amendment.”
But the National Rifle Association said the ruling was “clearly incorrect” and gave the group “very serious concerns” about her.
Much attention has been focused on Ricci v. DeStefano,in which a group of white firefighters sued the city of New Haven,Conn. The city threw out promotion test results after no black firefighters scored high enough to be promoted. Sotomayor's 2nd Circuit panel ruled that the city's action was justified,but the Supreme Court overturned that decision on a 5-4 vote last month.
In a news release,Robert Alt,senior legal fellow and deputy director of Heritage Foundation's Center for Legal and Judicial Studies,said Sotomayor's ruling “raises serious concerns about her legal judgment and particularly her evident bias in favor of racial and ethnic group preferences.”
The Alliance for Justice said the case has received “disproportionate attention” and reflected precedent. The group added that Sotomayor's record reveals no evidence of racial bias.
The Congressional Research Service found that,while it is difficult to establish an overall pattern in Sotomayor's civil rights rulings,she is generally favorable to those with disabilities.
In a conference call,Alliance for Justice Legal Director William Youmans called the former prosecutor “a strong law-and-order judge,” adding that she is “attentive,at times,to the rights of the criminal defendant.”
Conversely,Grossman said that during her 2nd Circuit confirmation hearings,Sotomayor was criticized for giving sentences that “consistently hit the lower end” of federal guidelines.
In a memo,Wendy E. Long,counsel for the conservative Judicial Confirmation Network,calls the nominee a “soft-on-crime judge who twists the law … and avoids binding precedent.”
The Congressional Research Service pointed out that Sotomayor has sided with both the government and defendants. Overall,the agency thought her criminal law record shows a strict adherence to precedent.
Almost all groups agreed that Sotomayor's lack of cases dealing directly with abortion makes it difficult to determine her views. In one case,she upheld the so-called Mexico City Policy,which prohibited U.S. money from being used by foreign organizations that perform abortions. She also sided with foreign married couples who sought asylum after being forced to have abortions.
Although unable to draw conclusions about her stance,the ACLU report concludes that Sotomayor does not use language “hostile to the right to choose abortion” and that she has demonstrated a belief that the decision to continue a wanted pregnancy is a “fundamental right.”
Anti-abortion Web site,LifeNews.com,pointed to a series of legal briefs in favor of abortion rights sent to the Supreme Court by the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund while Sotomayor was on its board of directors. According to the site,the briefs advocate for unrestricted and tax-funded abortions.
The Alliance for Justice report says the briefs support reproductive health care for poor women and minorities. Because Sotomayor did not sign them,the report says it is unknown if she agreed with their contents.