Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Obama Nominates Judge Sonia Sotomayor to SCOTUS

SotommayorWell, I was wrong.  The conventional wisdom said that Obama would pick a Latina, adding another woman and the first Hispanic to the Supreme Court of the U.S. in one fell swoop–and the only person fitting such a description that also had the legal qualifications and experience was Judge Sonia Sotomayor of the 2nd Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals.  So, she was widely rumored as a frontrunner and the right actually began a whisper campaign against her the moment that Justice David Souter announced his retirement at the end of this term of the Supreme Court–before anyone was nominated.


But I was convinced that Judge Sotomayor was too obvious a choice.  Obama has picked surprising people to fill his cabinet posts (people are STILL surprised that he picked his arch-rival Hillary Clinton to become Secretary of State!) and, althought he has sought major diversity, has never picked just to have an affirmative action choice.  I thought he certainly wanted someone who was NOT an appellate judge, but a working politician.  So, I thought Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D-MI) of Michigan had  the inside track.  Also, despite the screams of the right, Judge Sotomayor is fairly centrist–not much more liberal  than Justice Souter whom she’d be replacing, and so I thought Obama would save her for replacing a conservative–that he would pick a strong liberal to replace Souter.

I was wrong.  Judge Sotomayor is the nominee. Obama wants her confirmed before the August recess of Congress, so that she will be ready to go when the SCOTUS begins its fall term on the first Monday in October.  I think the GOP will try to drag it out to September, but I don’t think they have the votes to block her confirmation.  She was nominated first for the federal bench by Pres. George H. W. Bush and then elevated to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals by Pres. Bill Clinton. So, Judge Sotomayor has twice been confirmed by the senate already.  Seven (7) Republican senators voted for her confirmation in ’97.  So, it will be hard to keep her off the Supreme Court.  But the Right is already trying.  The confirmation hearings will be nasty.

My one real concern is that with Sotomayor, 6 of the 9 SCOTUS justices will be Catholic.  The remaining 3 will be two Jews and one Protestant (John Paul Stevens, the oldest Justice serving).  In a country where Protestants are still a plurality, if no longer a strict majority, this is a very Catholic-dominated court.  There are 11 Catholics who have been on the SCOTUS in U.S. history–and 5 of those 11 are still serving.  This worries me some on church-state issues where Catholics have tended to support positions that I would consider violations of the 1st Amendment’s ban on all laws “respecting an establishment of religion.”  I haven’t seen an analysis of Judge Sotomayor’s church–state decisions but would like to do so. 

Obama is likely to have 1-2 more Supreme Court picks this term and, if he is reelected, at least 1 more pick in his 2nd term.  I hope the others are more liberal and are not Catholic.

Bio:  Judge Sonia  Sotomayor is 54.  Her parents came from Puerto Rico during WWII and both were working class people.  She grew up in the Bronx, NY and first became interested in the law as a girl reading “Nancy Drew” mysteries.  When she was diagnosed with childhood onset diabetes at age 8, she was told that diabetics did not have the physical stamina to become police officers or private investigators (not true). So, she became a judge.  She graduated from Princeton University in 1976 summa cum laude.  (So much for those who claim she is not intelligent!) She then graduated from Yale University Law School in 1979 after serving as editor of the Yale Law Review.  She has been a NYC prosecutor and a civil litigator for international corporations operating in the U.S.  She has been a trial judge and, when replacing Souter, will be the only member of SCOTUS who has served as a trial judge.  She has been a state appellate judge (appointed in 1991 by Pres. George H.W. Bush) and a Circuit Court appellate judge (appointed in 1997 by Pres. Bill Clinton).  Her name was previously floated as a replacement for Justice Sandra Day O’Conner when she retired from SCOTUS in ‘ 05.

This article shows convincingly that, although the rightwing noise machine will complain loudly about her nomination, they don’t have the votes to prevent her from being confirmed (or even to filibuster her nomination) –unless a major scandal would be uncovered (highly unlikely).  And Republican Senators like Mitch McConnell are on record as opposing the filibustering of judicial nominees–calling it obstructionist.  This won’t prevent them from reversing themselves now, but we can show them to be absolute hypocrites when they do reverse themselves.

Update:  The Senate Judiciary Committee  has just released its questionaire for Judge Sotomayor.  After she has filled it out, they will release her answers.  I indicated my questions for any replacement for Souter here.


May 26, 2009 - Posted by | church-state separation, courts, judges, judicial philosophy, law


  1. Don’t you find it at least a bit contradictory that a pacifist like yourself wishes for increasingly liberal judges who will uphold abortion rights? How can you, as a pacifist, uphold the right to KILL? As one indebted to pacifism, I believe that a consistent ethic of life teaches that you should be against abortion.

    Comment by Andrew | May 26, 2009

  2. I have previously written as to why I feel that abortion and war and the death penalty are all separate issues. Or, I could put it this way, “Don’t you find it at least a bit contradictory that that a pacifist like yourself wishes for increasingly conservative judges who will uphold the death penalty and possibly indefinite detention, torture, and maybe preemptive war? How can you as a pacifist uphold the right to KILL?”

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | May 26, 2009

  3. Andrew, even when I was against abortion, I was opposed to attempting to overturn Roe v. Wade because the judges that were/are opposed to it vote for far-right positions on all sorts of other things. Scalia, for instance, believes that Arizona v. Miranda was wrongly decided.

    If one wants to make abortion illegal, one should try for a Constitutional Amendment that changes Roe v. Wade but leaves the rest of settled law intact.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | May 26, 2009

  4. On church-state separation, Sotoyano in 1993 struck down a law banning a menorah in a public park, to her credit. So at least she’s not a radical separationist.

    Comment by James Pate | May 26, 2009

  5. I mean Sotomayor.

    Comment by James Pate | May 26, 2009

  6. Michael—you have misinterpreted me. You cannot automatically insinuate from my comment that I am therefore in favor of conservative judges who will uphold “indefinite detention, torture, and pre-emptive war.” In fact, I’m not! I abhor all the above actions you listed. I have a hard time supporting any judge(s).

    All this to say, your immensely naive, vacillating differentiation between personhood and life is not only theologically abhorrent, but medically & biologically fallacious.

    Two foregone conclusions of my own: You have no consistent ethic of life. Two, you sound overly defensive about taking heat from the abortion debate. Get over it. If your position is as fallacious and untenable as everyone else understands it to be, then get a new position! Don’t flagrantly chastise commenters simply because they see the error in your thinking.

    A Southern Seminary M.Div. student

    Comment by Andrew | May 26, 2009

  7. Alito had excellent pre-confirmation reviews by lawyers appearing before him. Published in the Almanac of the Federal Judiciary, he was highly praised in acumen, writing and demeanor.
    Sotomayor’s are good but not excellent; her demeanor takes some hits in the Almanac.
    Obama voted against confirming Alito.
    On this basis, anyone could justify a vote against Sotomayor.

    But most probably won’t. She is qualified, and so far nothing appears to disqualify her.

    Comment by K Gray | May 26, 2009

  8. I find that most commenters, who are politically conservative or reactionary and religiously fundamental, are so indoctrinated in the abortion debate that they are single issue dominant. They tie every issue to abortion and consider anyone who disagrees with them to be abhorrent. I had one such person, who commented on my blog. She simply could not comment without including abortion. These folks are so indoctrinated that they seem to think that millions of abortions are carried out daily.

    Comment by Ralph | May 26, 2009

  9. Good point Ralph, it’s only a million a year….whew! now I feel better.

    Now let’s have Michael carry on like a one-note Charlie about waterboarding and demonize those who tolerate fine distinctions on that issue. Especially since millions are waterboarded daily.

    Repeat after me…..we are not left-wing reactionaries….we are not left-wing reactionaries…

    Comment by stan | May 27, 2009

  10. Andrew, that’s correct. I have no “consistent ethic of life” which is another word for the seamless garment ethic.

    Andrew, I don’t necessarily think you want judges who will uphold “indefinite detention, torture, etc.” But that’s the kind of judges one gets when one’s litmus test is opposition to Roe v. Wade. Scalia, Thomas, Alito, etc. Name a conservative judge who was nominated for the Supreme Court who did have such radical views.

    Whether my view on abortion is “fallacious and untenable” is certainly open to debate. I have certainly not been persuaded by the arguments against it and I have read most of what has been written on all sides of the abortion debate since 1980. But I am very open to the idea that I could be wrong–since I have changed my view twice since becoming an adult in 1980. What I object to is that this becomes the topic of debate no matter what else is being discussed. Whatever the topic, let’s switch to abortion, instead.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | May 27, 2009

  11. I would have voted against Alito and Roberts because they (1) have too strong a view of executive branch authority versus congress–the imperial presidency is not constitutional, but they think it is. (2) Alito and Roberts consistently side with corporations over individuals and unions, with government over citizens, with business over the environment. (3) Neither Alito nor Roberts are strong defenders of civil liberties.

    Acumen, writing, and demeanor are not everything. There is a tendency to see bold action by men as “gutsy” and the same actions by women as “aggressive.” We are not nominating someone to friend of the year, but to the Supreme Court of the United States. Scalia has lousy temper and “demeanor” but no conservative has ever held this against him.

    I doubt seriously the GOP can justify votes against Sotomayor because they confirmed her twice already.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | May 27, 2009

  12. That’s ridiculous. Michael blogs about all sorts of things. Meanwhile anti abortionists care less about the millions of children dying of Aids or starvation than the development of an embryo. What is surprising to me is that American anti abortionists call themselves pro-life but I see less regard to life of the people whose lives may be destroyed or indeed the lives of children who may end up abused or uncared for. And if millions of births are really prevented through abortion, I wonder how the planet would cope if they weren’t.

    And I’m sorry Michael, this post is not about this so I don’t mind if you delete my comment.

    Comment by steph | May 27, 2009

  13. Obama hit a double-a woman and a Hispanic. He is a smart politico !

    Comment by Paul | May 27, 2009

  14. O”bama hit a double-a woman and a Hispanic. He is a smart politico !” if only she had been a lesbian, it would have been a three-fer.

    If she was a bi-sexual it would have been a home run.

    Not that there is anything wrong with that.

    Comment by BILLY the Kid | May 27, 2009

  15. Michael,

    For one who espouses such confidence in their political assertions, I find it rather troubling that you “could be wrong” on the abortion issue. Wouldn’t you rather err on the side of caution and defend the position that guards, protects, and defends human life, better yet, innocent life (whether in the womb or out of the womb)? I find that your position is glaringly weak and blatanly sinful. How can you defend abortion biblically? I can have absolutely no respect for a position theologically or philosophically that is as contradictory as yours.

    So let me get this right: You fight for economic and political justice, but yet you seem to overlook the injustice of abortion. Why don’t you go down to Market St. and watch how women are pawned into receiving a ‘procedure’ that will remove their ‘problem.’ That’s injustice on many levels. Be consistent.

    By the way, if you are still frustrated that I’m still talking about abortion, then provide an argument that will silence my position.

    Comment by Andrew | May 27, 2009

  16. No, Andrew, I will not. I DON’T want to talk about abortion and it’s MY BLOG. So shut up or be banned! Do I have to be rude to get these constant “troll” comments to stop!

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | May 27, 2009

  17. I think it was 1998 when Sotomayor was confirmed for federal appeals court. She now has ten years’ more experience; correspondingly, Senators have a much fuller record on which to decide. Votes could change based on, for example, her appellate court decisions reversed by the SCOTUS.

    Again, however, I think she will be confirmed. And her demeanor issues on the bench (lawyers complain that she can be bullying, abusive, out-of-control, a “terror”)may vanish in the august high courtroom.

    Comment by K Gray | May 27, 2009

  18. The “bully on the bench” story first written in The New Republic by Jeff Rosen has been widely rebutted, especially by Glenn Greenwald in Salon.com who shows that Rosen uses only anonymous sources. Rosen himself has walked some of that article back.

    Again, “demeanor issues” often show sexism. The same qualities that would be admired in a male as “assertive” would be denounced in a woman as “aggressive.”

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | May 27, 2009

  19. Salon may rebut Jeff Rosen or whomever but the comments I quoted are from the Almanac of the Federal Judiciary, a legit review of judges by lawyers who practice before them. Reviews in the Almanac are also anonymous, but as I recall you have to fill out a form to submit a review, indicating that you have recent personal experience practicing before the judge. (I may be wrong here).

    MWW, following your info I stumbled on Matt Yglesias whose commenters are busy debating Rosen’s anonymous sources, apparently unaware of the Almanac as a separate, independent source of reviews.

    So Rosen, Salon, Greenwald and Yglesias and pundits-reviewing-each-other aside, there may be a demeanor issue.
    It could be part sexism, but the complaints in the Almanac are pretty specific and consistent (Powerline, a very conservative blog by attorneys, quotes about 8 demeanor complaints, but also quotes comments complimentary of her acumen and writing). It would be interesting to compare Sotomayor’s reviews to those of other female federal judges’ demeanors.

    I still think the demeanor thing will solve itself, especially if she goes on to serve brilliantly.

    Comment by K Gray | May 27, 2009

  20. […] of the United States Supreme Court : RushPRnews – Newswire & Global Press Release Distribut…Obama Nominates Judge Sonia Sotomayor to SCOTUS « Levellers…The Locust Fork News-Journal » Blog Archive » Obama Introduces Judge Sonia Sotomayor for […]

    Pingback by Hot News » Judge Sonia Sotomayor | May 28, 2009

  21. I want to see a Finnish-American transsexual on the court who has strong Libertarian sympathies ! 🙂

    Comment by Paul | May 28, 2009

  22. Then, again, K, Scalia’s “demeanor” still drives his fellow justices–even the ones who vote with him–crazy. He provokes much animosity on SCOTUS, just as he did as an appellate judge. But I don’t remember one question about his “demeanor” in his hearings. This is why I think the “bully on the bench” meme is sexist.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | May 28, 2009

  23. Wanted to pass this along, it’s what Obama had to say about the racism issue: http://content.usatoday.com/communities/theoval/post/2009/05/67435677/1

    Comment by Steven Kippel | May 29, 2009

  24. Is it a conflict of interest for an attorney who happens to be an interim judge on your probate matter, and who also represents a figure on the opposing side in the same matter to make a ruling on the matter? How can he not be biased on the side of his client? Aren’t judges supposed to be the great “levellers in our society? Why didn’t he recuse himself?

    Comment by diane a clay | July 5, 2010

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