Senate Democrats

Sotomayor: Record Demonstrates Equal Treatment For All Litigants

Judge Sotomayor’s 17-Year Judicial Record Demonstrates That She is a Fair-Minded Judge Who Will Treat All Litigants Equally

RHETORIC:  Today, Senator Sessions suggested, based on a few lines in speeches she has given, that Judge Sotomayor may allow prejudices to affect the way she views cases before her and may not be fair to some litigants who come before her.

JUDGE SOTOMAYOR SAID TODAY:  Judge Sotomayor made clear this morning that she believes “every person has an opportunity to be a good and wise judge regardless of their life experience,” and her statements to law students and civil groups about being a Latina were meant “to inspire them to believe they could become anything they wanted to become, just as I have” and “to believe their life experience would enrich the legal system.”   While her words have received a great deal of attention, “the context of the words” she spoke “created a misunderstanding.”

Independent studies confirm that Judge Sotomayor is a fair, mainstream judge with a deep respect for precedent in her approach to race discrimination cases and all other cases.

REALITY:  In an independent study, Supreme Court expert Tom Goldstein found that, of the 97 race-related cases in which Judge Sotomayor participated while on the Second Circuit, she and the rest of her panel “rejected discrimination claims roughly 80 times and agreed with them 10 times,” rejecting discrimination claims by a margin of 8-to-1.  Goldstein found that, “[o]f the 10 cases favoring claims of discrimination, 9 were unanimous” and that, “of those 9, in 7, the unanimous panel included at least one Republican-appointed judge.”  “Given that record,” Goldstein concluded, “it seems absurd to say that Judge Sotomayor allows race to infect her decisionmaking.”

REALITY:  According to the Congressional Research Service, which performed an exhaustive analysis of Judge Sotomayor’s judicial record, “[p]erhaps the most consistent characteristic of Judge Sotomayor’s approach as an appellate judge has been an adherence to the doctrine of stare decisis, i.e., the upholding of past judicial precedents.  Other characteristics appear to include what many would describe as a careful application of particular facts at issue in a case and a dislike for situations in which the court might be seen as overstepping its judicial role.”

As they have with past nominees, Republicans should recognize that the best evidence of Judge Sotomayor’s judicial philosophy is her 17-year record of fair and impartial judging.

  During Justice Alito’s confirmation hearings, Republicans argued that a judge’s record is by far the best indicator of how he or she makes decisions.  One senior Bush administration official wrote:  “Judge Alito has sat on the federal appellate bench for more than 15 years, and his decisions in that capacity represent the best evidence of his judicial philosophy and the manner in which he approaches judicial decision-making.”  (Letter to Senator Leahy from Assistant Attorney General William Moschella, January 6, 2006.)

REALITY:   An examination of Judge Sotomayor’s 17-year judicial record reveals a commitment to judicial restraint and fairness evident in cases like Pappas v. Guiliani, in which Judge Sotomayor dissented in favor of a white police department employee who was fired for having sent blatantly racist, Anti-Semitic messages in response to charity requests he received in the mail.  Although she found the employee’s speech “patently offensive, hateful, and insulting,” Judge Sotomayor concluded that the court, which upheld the police department’s firing of the employee, “should not [] gloss over three decades of jurisprudence and the centrality of First Amendment freedoms in our lives because it is confronted with speech it does not like. . . .”