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The Verdict on Sonia Sotomayor


sonia sotomayor

This week, all eyes are on Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor as the Senate confirmation hearings rule the media (and not just sleep-inducing C-SPAN, for once). This is a historic time for the United States, as Sotomayor may become the first Hispanic and only the third woman to serve on the Supreme Court.

But what do we know about this woman?

To help you stay informed, we’ve filtered through the media’s deluge of reports on Sotomayor and have compiled this handy fact sheet, summarizing her rulings and positions on some important issues:

On affirmative action

The Verdict: Supports it

Sotomayor ruled to uphold a lower court’s decision that found in favor of affirmative action in the New Haven, CT fire department. In an earlier case, Gant v. Wallingford Board of Education, Sotomayor dissented from the decision, finding that racial discrimination had occurred when a black student was demoted from the first grade to kindergarten.

On strip searches

The Verdict: Against them

In a 2004 case that upheld the legality of strip searches of girls at juvenile detention centers in CT, Sotomayor wrote a dissent emphasizing the intrusive and humiliating nature of strip searches. Sotomayor made similar points in a dissent to the decision in a case concerning the strip search of a 13 year-old middle school student in Arizona.

On abortion

The Verdict: Position unclear

Sotomayor has heard few cases involving abortion, so her position is unclear. In one case, she denied a claim by an abortion rights group that sought to challenge an anti-abortion Bush policy. However, she has said that she considers the issue of abortion rights to be “settled law” and believes that there is a constitutional right to privacy.

On gun/weapon control

The Verdict: Supports it

Sotomayor denied a claim by a New York man that his state’s ban on a martial arts weapon violated his Second Amendment rights. She explained that the Second Amendment only applies to the federal government; he had a case only if it had been the federal government banning the weapon. Sotomayor has also agreed with the notion that the right to possess a gun is not a fundamental right.

On the environment

The Verdict: Supports environmental protection efforts

Sotomayor ruled that the EPA could not use cost-benefit calculations in deciding whether to require power plants to change to eco-friendly practices. Essentially, the EPA cannot weigh cost as a factor in the protection of aquatic life from nearby power plants.

What would her confirmation mean for the Supreme Court?
Despite the old Republican talking point, Sotomayor is not expected to be an activist judge or lean to one end of the political spectrum completely, even if many of her positions are considered liberal. Both liberals and conservatives support her, and it should be noted that she was nominated to be a federal district judge by Republican President George H. W. Bush. Many pundits expect her to be almost exactly in-line with Justice David Souter, whom she was nominated to replace. Souter’s record shows a tendency to vote with the the liberal bloc, even though he was nominated as a conservative.

When Sotomayor was nominated to the Circuit Court of Appeals in 1997, she had this to say on the role of the court: “I don’t believe we should bend the Constitution under any circumstance. It says what it says. We should do honor to it.”

So now you’ve got all the facts.
What do you think about Sotomayor?

    I was a call-in contestant on Slimetime Live when I was in fourth grade. I won a remote control car that broke the day I got it. It was perhaps both the best and worst day of my life.