Born in the Bronx to recently transplanted Puerto Rican parents, Sonia Sotomayor grew up in a housing project and, as the most recent addition to the bench of the Supreme Court, encompasses the true American dream. So, who better to throw the first pitch of the 2009 Yankees season (in the new Yankees stadium in the Bronx, no less)? Could this have been a premonition that the Yankees would win the World Series this year?
But, the most pressing point about Hon. Sonia Sotomayor is how she will rule in upcoming Supreme Court cases. With any judicial appointee the question becomes how will this person affect the “balance of the court,” i.e. will he/she tend to have liberal or conservative leanings? Will he/she be an activist judge who assumes the role of shaping legal policy or will he/she apply the law evenhandedly regardless of politics?
To answer this question we have to look at Sotomayor’s own politics and experiences as well as the Justice whom Sotomayor replaced, in this case Justice Souter. Certainly Sotomayor’s race and socioeconomic background have played a pivotal role in forming how she applies the law and what kinds of cases she is sympathetic to. However, she also worked as a prosecutor in New York for five years and, while not overzealous, she nonetheless may have a more staunch view on criminal cases. As for Justice Souter, he typically sided with the pack of more liberal leaning Justices on the Court, but he did not sit on the far- reaching liberal end of the spectrum (Justice Ginsburg, for example, has berated the Court when they have made particularly conservative opinions). For example, in his last opinion, Ricci v. DeStefano, Souter joined a dissent that agreed with minority firefighters that they were being discriminated against by their employer. So, my guess is that Sotomayor will rule more liberally on social issues, more conservatively on criminal ones and, in replacing Souter, the overall balance of the court will not likely shift much, but may become stauncher on criminal procedure cases. But it will also be interesting to see how, as the first Latina/o appointee, Sotomayor’s personal and professional nuances will influence the overall dynamic of the bench.
Currently, the Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments for a criminal case out of Florida where the issue is whether a juvenile can be sentenced to life in prison for a non-homicide crime. The defendant is African American and was thirteen at the time of the crime — defense is arguing that there was racism at the trial and that the defendant is innocent. I am anxious to see how Sotomayor and the rest of the court come out on this case and the many others on the 2009/2010 docket, including cases addressing the death penalty, animal cruelty and gun control.
Posted by: Jenni