UVA profs: Sotomayor faces smooth confirmation
As President Barack Obama attempts to fill the vacancy on the US Supreme Court soon to be left by the departure of Justice David Souter, a pair of UVA law professors foresee little confirmation trouble for the self-proclaimed "kid from the Bronx," Judge Sonia Sotomayor, whose nomination was made public Tuesday morning.
According to UVA-based Constitutional scholar A.E. Dick Howard, Judge Sotomayor's "simply impeccable legal credentials" and "impressive track record" make her clearly qualified for the job and an obvious choice for President Obama.
Even beyond her qualifications, Howard says, may be her "life story," which includes being of Puerto Rican descent and growing up in a housing project in the Bronx, raised by a single mother after her father died when she was young.
"Sotomayor's own story is different from those who came up from a life of relative privilege," says Howard, who notes that, if confirmed, Sotomayor will bring the "empathy" Obama sought in an appointee. Howard says that Sotomayor recognizes how decisions by the Court affect ordinary people, and that her background and experiences will allow her to "shed light" on decisions that the other justices cannot.
If confirmed, Sotomayor will be the first Hispanic and the third woman to serve on the Supreme Court. But while her Hispanic background will make her "one more entry into the history books" for the Obama administration Howard says, she is actually more similar to her colleagues than a first glance would convey.
She was educated at Princeton University and Harvard Law School, and was first appointed to a federal district court in 1991 by Republican President George H.W. Bush. In addition, Howard notes, by replacing the liberal-leaning Justice Souter, it is unlikely she will change the Court's ideological balance.
Howard claims that some like to make a sport of confirmation hearings and see "blood splattered on the wall."
Critics of Judge Sotomayor have already commented on her possible tendency towards judicial activism. A conservative Constitutional watchdog group has blasted Sotomayor as a judicial activist.
"Judge Sotomayor thinks her own personal political agenda is more important than the law as written," says Wendy E. Long, counsel to the group, the Judicial Confirmation Network.
Sotomayor, who as part of a three-judge panel, upheld the dismissal of a reverse-discrimination case in New Haven, Connecticut in which some firefighters alleged that their promotions were denied on the basis of their race.
However, UVA Law Professor Risa Goluboff says that she believes all justices are affected by their background, and that to believe they rule "without their personal experiences affecting them is a false idea."
Goluboff adds that though the Republicans are the current minority, they have sufficient numbers to create a filibuster on the nomination. Goluboff says that Republicans attempting to impede her confirmation, especially those representing states with large Hispanic populations, would be "politically silly."
President Obama in his announcement quoted the late Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, saying "the life of the law has not been logic, it has been experience; experience being tested by obstacles and barriers, by hardship and misfortune."
And as Sotomayor embarks on the next steps toward becoming a Supreme Court Justice, time will tell how much her difficult background and experience has affected her.