Supreme Court Justice nominee Sonia Sotomayor is receiving national recognition, including the approval of UC Davis School of Law Dean Kevin Johnson.
Sotomayor has a range of experiences that make her unique from the other justices, such as her time spent as a district attorney in Manhattan. Currently there are no justices with a district attorney background. If approved by the Senate, Sotomayor would have the most experience out of any Supreme Court Judge in 70 years.
Criticism has fallen on Sotomayor for her 2001 comment that she hoped a Latina woman would make more informed decisions than a white man.
“That is why we have nine justices in the Supreme Court, and why we have a jury of the community,” Johnson said. “It is inevitable that everyone who decides on a case will bring their own background into their rulings.“
Conservatives, like radio personality Rush Limbaugh and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, have labeled Sotomayor as a “reverse racist” and “Latina woman racist,” implying that her decisions are biased in favor of Latinos and other minorities.
However, according to Johnson, Sotomayor’s record shows otherwise. In a reverse discrimination lawsuit in New Haven, Conn., Sotomayor ruled against white and Latino firefighters in favor of the African Americans represented in the case.
“This suggests to me that she won’t be biased in favor of Latinos,” Johnson said.
Limbaugh and Gingrich’s views do not reflect those of Republican senators though. “I definitely think we need to have the respectful tone and we need to look at the record,” said Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison in an Associated Press interview.
The Davis College Republicans voiced their concern for Sotomayor’s selection as well.
“She appears to be a very qualified individual,” said Tierney Burke, president of the Davis College Republicans. “But I’m worried that her past judicial record indicates that she would legislate from the bench.“
Sotomayor has received criticism over the issue of judicial activism; a philosophy advocating that judges look beyond the Constitution to achieve results that are consistent with contemporary conditions.
“Many members of DCR are hoping she doesn’t legislate from the bench. We believe the Supreme Court should be enforcing laws instead of pushing their own views through,” Burke said.
Johnson recommended that those who are worried about her behavior on the bench should look at her hundreds of opinions from her previous rulings, which he described to be in accordance with the constitution.
Her nomination has brought her judicial temperament into question, as she is known for asking aggressive questions. Justices Scalia and Roberts are also known for being aggressive on the bench, but have not been criticized for it, Johnson said.
Bronx-born and of Puerto Rican descent, Sotomayor graduated summa cum laude from Princeton University, and received her J.D. from Yale Law School where she was also an editor at the Yale Law Journal. She was unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate in 1992 and was the first Hispanic federal judge in New York State.
If confirmed, Sotomayor will be the first Hispanic and third woman to serve on the Supreme Court.
“She doesn’t fit the stereotype of how some people think she should behave,” Johnson said. “She’s no wallflower.”
GABRIELLE GROW can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.