Barack Obama named his nominee to replace Justice David Souter on the United States Supreme Court today: Sonia Sotomayor, a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judge in New York.
Sotomayor was appointed to the Federal District Court of Manhattan by the first President Bush and then promoted to the Court of Appeals by Clinton, leading Obama to praise her as a non-partisan nominee.
She studied at Princeton before attending Yale Law school. She is a first generation American who grew up in the Bronx, the daughter of a factory worker: seemingly the embodiment of the American Dream.
If appointed she will be the first Latino ever to serve on the nation’s highest court, and the one of two woman on the current Court. The website SCOTUSBLOG offers an in-depth run-down of her record.
Despite being labeled an “activist” by conservatives, Sotomayor is a fairly vanilla nominee. She hasn’t issued too many major decisions on the hot button political issues: abortion, marriage equality, the death penalty or national security. The above link to SCOTUSBLOG offers insight into several of her decisions.
Sotomayor is known for her diligence, intellect, and attention to detail; seldom rendering verbose, quotable rulings. The WSJ calls her “within the mainstream of Democratic judicial appointees.”
Sotomayor has made one ruling that calls her green credentials into question. She ruled that the EPA does not have authority to carry out cost-benefit analysis to determine the best technology for cooling-water intake at power plants, a process which adversely affects aquatic life. The decision was later overturned by the US Supreme Court, 6-3. A detailed description is provided on the SCOTUSBLOG post.
The Republican response to this nomination will be very interesting to watch. Since the elections last fall, the G.O.P. has been split on whether to continue to satisfy its conservative base–the cost of that strategy being Democratic domination of Washington–or to appeal to a wider, more mainstream audience.
Latinos are the fastest growing group of voters, and opposing Sotomayor could be seen as a slight by undecided Latino voters. Important voices within the G.O.P. have already come out on both sides of the issue: some are calling Sotomayor a liberal activist and preparing for ideological warfare, while others feel that there are bigger battles to be won.
Something else to watch will be the case Sotomayor ruled on which will soon go in front of the Supreme Court. The case was brought against New Haven, Connecticut by white firefighters who felt they were the victims of reverse racism when the results of a promotional exam were invalidated because no black firefighter passed.
The three judge panel Sotomayor sat on said it was not unsympathetic to the firefighters, but that their case had no legal standing. If the Supreme Court disagrees it may look bad for Sotomayor in the public eye, giving conservatives ammunition to oppose her nomination.