President Obama has made his first Supreme Court selection by choosing Sonia Sotomayor.
I became familiar with Judge Sotomayor, as did much of the country, when she effectively ended the 1995 Major League Baseball strike ruling against the team owners in a decision that delighted baseball fans but left constitutionalists scratching their heads as to what right the court had to tell private owners how to run their business. Ironically the Major League Baseball case will probably be the main sticking point with conservative questioners at her confirmation hearings as it seems to reveal an invasive view of the court in private affairs, a liberal mainstay in judicial philosophy.
Yes Sotomayor leans liberal, which should be no surprise as an Obama nominee, however she has been favored by both political parties throughout her impressive career. She was nominated to the U.S. District court by George H.W. Bush in 1992, then elevated to the highly active 2nd Circuit by President Clinton in 1998.
Sotomayor is a very safe political pick for Obama at a time when he needs a high profile appointment like this to pass. I think she will be confirmed relatively easily. Compared to what most judicial conservatives thought Obama would put forward, Sonia Sotomayor is mild. I figured he would appoint someone who made Ruth Ginsberg look conservative, the Sotomayor selection has surprised me a bit.
On the two "culture war" issues that gain the most attention- abortion and gay rights- Sotomayor has ruled very little. She has a scant track record on these unless I'm missing something. I'm sure conservatives will do their best to bring up any and all liberal rulings she has made but off the top I can't find any significant rulings in favor of abortion rights or gay rights. Interestingly Lifenews.com reports the following on Sotomayor-
"Despite 17 years on the bench, Judge Sotomayor has never directly decided whether a law regulating abortion was constitutional," the pro-life group Americans United for Life noted in a recent analysis of potential Supreme Court candidates.
Sotomayor participated in a decision concerning the Mexico City Policy, which President Obama recently overturned and which prohibits sending taxpayer dollars to groups that promote and perform abortions in other nations.
Writing for the Second Circuit, Judge Sotomayor upheld the Mexico City Policy, but AUL says the significance of the decision "may be minimal because the issue was largely controlled by the Second Circuit's earlier opinion in a similar challenge to the policy."
AUL notes that Judge Sotomayor also upheld the pro-life policy by rejecting claims from a pro-abortion legal group that it violated the Equal Protection Clause.
Sotomayer's thin ruling history on these issues makes it very likely she'll fly through confirmation hearings.
What does this mean? It's really hard to say at this point. I think we will soon have another judge who takes a relatively intrusionist view of the judiciary. On the other hand, regarding abortion and gay rights, it's hard to say what she'll do based on her judicial history. What gives me pause is how comfortable Planned Parenthood is about her nomination stating- "she understands the importance of ensuring that our Supreme Court justices respect precedent while also protecting our civil liberties." Gay rights legal activist Paula Ettelbrick made this telling statement about Sotomayor's nomination- "I believe she has the demonstrated commitment to principles of equal protection and inclusion that defines a good nominee to the Supreme Court. In choosing Judge Sotomayor, the first Latino candidate for the Supreme Court, President Obama has made a strong and appealing nomination that should and will receive the support of those committed to equality for lesbians and gay men."
Abortion and gay rights advocates are comfortable with Sotomayor which makes me uncomfortable. She must have given some kind of back room assurances to President Obama and these groups, otherwise they would not be so supportive.
Personally I am relieved Obama didn't select someone more radically liberal, so I see hope in her selection. The person she will replace, David Souter, was supposed to be a more conservative judge (appointed by George H.W. Bush) and turned out to be quite the opposite. Sandra O'Connor was similarly selected by Ronald Regan and also turned out to be liberal in her rulings. It would be nice to see a Supreme Court appointment turn out to be a disappointment to the liberals for once. Maybe Sotomayor will be such a one?