By Marc Seltzer; originally published on May 11, 2009 at politicsunlocked.com
President Barack Obama will soon name a Supreme Court nominee to fill the shoes of Justice David Souter.
Mr. Obama has stirred the pot in explaining what he is looking for in a justice, saying, “I will seek somebody with a sharp and independent mind, and a record of excellence and integrity. . . I will seek someone who understands that justice isn’t about some abstract legal theory or footnote in a case book, it is also about how our laws affect the daily realities of people’s lives, whether they can make a living, and care for their families, whether they feel safe in their homes, and welcome in their own nation. I view that quality of empathy, of understanding and identifying with peoples hopes and struggles as an essential ingredient for arriving at just decisions and outcomes.”
This is more a working man’s justice than an ivory tower intellectualism. Critics have already attacked Mr. Obama’s statement as though it sacrifices legal principles in favor of emotional sympathy. This is hardly likely, given Mr. Obama’s own background in education, role as a constitutional law professor and keen intellect, but it remains to be seen whether the issue will play into the selection of a candidate or the argument at hearings on confirmation. The overwhelming Democratic majority in the Senate may finally reduce the hearings to the pro-forma confirmation of years gone by.
Last week I profiled Justice Kim McLane Wardlaw of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Another leading contender for the position is Justice of the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, Sonia Sotomayor. Sotomayor was nominated by President George H.W. Bush to the federal bench and promoted by President Clinton to the federal court of appeals. She received bi-partisan support in both Senate confirmation votes, however, her nomination for the appellate position was stalled in the Senate committee by Republican Senators. She was seen as too liberal for objecting Senators who saw the nomination to the 2nd Circuit as preparation for a Supreme Court appointment.
Justice Sotomayor is considered a centrist although her opponents will likely paint her as a liberal in any attempt to derail her nomination. She is fifty-four years old and was born in New York to Puerto Rican immigrant parents. She would be the first Latina Supreme Court Justice if confirmed.
In 1994 she was the trial judge in the Major League Baseball strike case and her decision against the League and its effort to hire replacements and impose a new collective bargaining agreement effectively ended the strike.
The work of judges becomes a political football game when it comes time for nominations. Already Justice Sotomayor is being criticized in the press without much consideration for her judicial ability. More to the point are a list of evaluations of Justice Sotomayor by lawyers who interacted with her in court, provided by Loyola Law Professor Rob Kar:
“She is a brilliant judge and has been mentioned as a potential justice on the Supreme Court.”
“She’s of Supreme Court caliber. She’s very smart.”
“She’s very smart and well-educated, but she comes from very humble roots and I don’t think she’s forgotten that. She’s still human. She’s an outstanding judge.”
“I liked her when she was on the Southern District of New York, but I think she’s doing an even better job now that she has been elevated to the Second Circuit.”
“She’s very impressive. She has really done a good job and made a name for herself.”
“She’s usually right on target.”
“She’s very scholarly.”
“She’s really able to tackle anything. She really is a quick learner.”
“Even though she’s still relatively young, she has a very keen legal mind. She’s outstanding.”
“She’s very well-qualified for the job. She’s really very impressive.”