Monday, July 13, 2009

Parties Set to Paint Opposing Pictures of Nominee

Democrats Will Describe Judge as a Meticulous Workhorse While Republicans Cite Controversial Decisions, Remarks


WASHINGTON -- Two different images of Sonia Sotomayor will emerge from the Supreme Court nominee's confirmation hearings that begin Monday.

Democrats, focusing on her 17-year record as a federal judge, will portray the nominee as a meticulous judicial workhorse, impartially applying the law, even as her rise from the projects marks her as a quintessential American story.

"It's somewhat odd that three of the biggest constitutional cases she decided were the most truncated opinions that you can almost imagine," said Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the Senate Judiciary Committee's ranking Republican.

Democrats plan to shift the debate to Judge Sotomayor's experience. A host of mostly liberal interest groups and researchers have been issuing reports on Judge Sotomayor's courtroom record, which they say dispel suggestions she is a judicial radical.

Her supporters got a boost from a 55-page report from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, an arm of the Library of Congress. Sotomayor opinions "belie easy categorization along any ideological spectrum" and seem to reflect "careful application of particular facts at issue," along with a disinclination to overstep the court's "judicial role," researchers found.

The Brennan Center for Justice, a liberal advocacy program at New York University's law school, said its researchers analyzed 1,194 cases to see if Judge Sotomayor differed from her colleagues on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, overturned a legislative or executive action or deferred to a lower court or agency decision. She voted with the majority in 98.2% of constitutional cases, the center said.

On the federal district court from 1992 to 1998, Judge Sotomayor was more likely than other judges to send criminal defendants to prison, according to a Syracuse University research center. It reviewed 7,750 criminal prosecutions in the Southern District of New York, and found "she was notably tougher in her sentencing of white-collar criminals than was typical in this district."

Sen. Charles Schumer (D., N.Y.) issued a report showing Judge Sotomayor ruled against 83% of immigrants seeking asylum -- about the same as the Second Circuit overall.

"There's no better way to predict how a judicial nominee will perform on the bench than by their previous judicial records," Mr. Schumer said.

Conservatives, for the most part, don't dispute the statistics, but aren't surprised Judge Sotomayor's decisions accord with other judges. They say most appellate-court opinions are controlled by precedent, while the Supreme Court can overrule prior cases.

Criticism of the nominee "is not based on how she ruled, it's based on what she said," said Curt Levey, president of the Committee for Justice.

A Senate Democratic aide dismissed the idea that Judge Sotomayor has been concealing radical objectives. "It's hard to believe she was lying in wait just so she could save them up until she was on the Supreme Court," the aide said.

Mr. Levey, however, said the notion is not so far-fetched. "She's known for more than 10 years that she's being considered for the Supreme Court, so to some extent she's been on her best behavior," he said.

Write to Jess Bravin at

No comments:

Post a Comment