Sotomayor's Legal History

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Patricia Williams, professor of law at Columbia University, who writes the Diary of a Mad Law Professor column for The Nation magazine, discusses President Obama's Supreme Court justice pick Sonia Sotomayor's history of legal opinions.


Professor Patricia Williams

Comments [15]

Phil from Queens

I am a member of the US Supreme Court Bar and licensed to practice before it. I have worked on several cases that went up to the Supreme Court on petition and one that was heard before the Court. Only a relative few attorneys have ever practiced before the Court.

I would love to see another woman on the court and it would be wonderful to have an accomplished Hispanic jurist (like the 1st Hispanic appointed - Justice Benjamin Cardozo, who was appointed in 1932 by the Republican President Herbert Hoover) on the court as well, but Judge Sotomayor has promoted racist and sexist ideas and attitudes and supports “judicial activism,” wherein a few mostly liberal judges feel that they can make new laws from the bench, improperly taking up the role of the duly elected legislature. Part of the foundation of this country is separation of powers. Courts are supposed to interpret the law, not make it.

There is also some reliable information that she supports using foreign laws to “make” laws here. Finally, despite having a wonderful story and having an excellent career, she apparently isn't really a top of the line judge (though I'm sure she's a lot smarter then me), often missing the point of legal arguments and apparently, according to several people closely familiar with her chambers, she can be a bully. These qualities or the lack of the same will not serve her or the country well if she gets a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court. She is only 54. She may be there for 20 - 30 years or more.

Hopefully the Senate will question her carefully and fully vet her rather than just rubber stamp the President’s very political “interest group politics” appointment. Apparently he did not consider appointing any men. We need the best and the brightest in the Supreme Court whether male or female and without racial or religious considerations, not political ideologues or people filling a “quota” to appease one interest group or another.

May. 27 2009 11:07 AM
ceolaf from brooklyn


I think that you -- and many others -- are misunderstanding how to read Sotomayor's judicial record. You are not keeping in mind that judges avoid rulings that they think will be overturned.

It is not the role of trial and appellate Judges to rule as they would like the the law to be. Rather, they are supposed to make rulings consistent with what has come before and what will come in the future. No judge wants to be overruled by a higher court -- essentially a mark of incompetence.

In fact, the quote about appellate judges making policy was about how they often have to rule in the absence of appropriate prior guidance. That is, they make rulings without appropriate precedent to guide them. However, when they make these rulings they do not want to be overruled.

Now, look at the Supreme Court we have had through her judicial tenure. They would serve as a moderating force to any potentially liberal federal judge. Go too far off the reservation and they'd overrule you. But if you rule on narrow and technical ground, what might the argue with?

And so, we can't know how liberal or ideological she might be without that threat of being overruled once she is on the Court. We've got a lower bound, given her history. But the upper bound? We'll have to wait to find out.

May. 27 2009 10:59 AM
Edmund Singleton from Bronx, NY

Professor Williams is being cited for the excessive use of the phrase 'um', please stay off the radio for while...

May. 27 2009 10:58 AM
the truth from bkny

White Latina? What is this phrase?

May. 27 2009 10:58 AM
hjs from 11211

she sided with the city and it's elected representatives would you have been happier if she used the courts to "fix" the problem?

May. 27 2009 10:50 AM
Michael Scott from Brooklyn

Remind your guest Patricia WIlliams that Sotomayor did not only have a public school education.She went to Catholic School- Cardinal Spellman High School- my alma mater

May. 27 2009 10:49 AM
Tony from Brooklyn

Obama is really exaggerating Sotomayor's unique esperience and it is reidiculous to say she is more prepared than anyone in 70 years. Look at her against Alito the last Supreme. She worked for the NYDA for 5 years prosecuting violent crimes; Alito was asst Us attyn and US aty for NJ for a total of eight years and prosecuted drugs and organized ctime. She had been a judge for 17 years; Alito was one for 16 years. The main difference is that she was in private practice for 5 yeasrs and Alito was in Govt sevice in the Fedrsal AG office and the Solitor General for 10 years. She is not that unique

May. 27 2009 10:46 AM
Amy from Manhattan

Maybe a justice who isn't interested in Scalia-style "pyrotechnics" *is* the kind of balance we need on the Supreme Court!

May. 27 2009 10:44 AM
Harry from NIMBY

Sotomayor's record of 6 out of 9 cases appealed to the Supreme Court being overturned and 1 other case being upheld but only incidentally, not for the reasoning of her opinion is proof of her ability to render a Constitutionally based argument? That's very funny!

May. 27 2009 10:34 AM
bernard joseph from brooklyn

her ruling upholding the new haven firefighter test decision is disturbing. this was not a pragmatic decision but a policy leaning, personal move.
judging someone on the color of their skin is wrong no matter which way it flows.

May. 27 2009 10:34 AM
Harry from NIMBY

Since Sotomayor thinks “Latina woman with the richness of her experience would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”, what would be the rational for not replacing the entire court with "Latina" women? Actually we do a disservice to the human race by not replacing all judges and other people in positions who make policy with "Latina" women since, as she asserts, it is within the purview of the federal district court to make policy. Only a coprophagous liberal could come to such conclusions!

May. 27 2009 10:08 AM
Caitlin from Jersey City

I've seen it mentioned in a bunch of bios that she specialized in intellectual property law, among other things. Could you please expand on this a bit, and tell us where she stands on filesharing, etc?

May. 27 2009 10:00 AM
Raymon from Bronx

Continued from # 1

Or that Sonia Sotomayor will be ruling from a perspective of color and not follow the law, which would be a ridiculous discussion and disingenuous one!

May. 27 2009 09:39 AM
Steve from Staten Island

I do not care one iota what her personal background is, but I do care about her leanings, disturbingly liberal as they appear to be. Isn't there anyone in this country qualified that is middle-of-the-road anymore, or is it the politicians that only seek people to the far left or right. Is this person the best we have to offer, discounting her up-from-the-bootstraps success story she is (which is a nice feel-good story, but one that hardly qualifies her to the highest judicial position we have to offer)?

May. 27 2009 09:34 AM
Raymon from Bronx

Patricia J. Williams is an interesting choice for a guest on the Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, although she is a strong advocate for the "Critical Race Theory" that emphasizes race as a fundamental determinant of the American legal system.

I hope Brian this does not turn into a discussion regarding Sonia Sotomayor was only selected due to her minority status and negating her over whelming qualifications!

We are quite aware of your identity politics tirade.

May. 27 2009 09:25 AM

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