Obama Picks Sotomayor
May 27, 2009
Brian Wingfield and Joshua Zumbrun
President Obama has named Sonia Sotomayor, a federal appeals court judge for New York's Second Circuit, as the first female Hispanic nominee to the Supreme Court.
Due to the Democratic majority on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will hold Sotomayor's confirmation hearings this summer, her placement on the nation's highest court is considered likely.
"Objectively, her qualifications are overwhelming from the perspective of ordinary Americans. She has been a prosecutor, private litigator, trial judge and appellate judge," argues Tom Goldstein, co-head of Akin Gump's Supreme Court practices, in an analysis of Sotomayor's nomination posted at Scotusblog.
"No one currently on the Court has that complete package of experience," he writes.
But business groups are eyeing her nomination cautiously. "It is important that the confirmation process focus carefully on the nominee's views and how they would impact economic growth and Main Street businesses," said Robin Conrad, executive vice president of U.S. Chamber of Commerce's National Chamber Litigation Center, in a statement. "It is equally important that the next associate justice applies the law without bias."
As it has done to evaluate most sitting members of the court, the Chamber plans to form a committee to review Sotomayor's legal history and familiarity with business issues before making an endorsement.
If confirmed, Sotomayor, 54, likely will not drastically change the way the court rules, however. So called "Republican" Justices (meaning they were nominated by a Republican president) Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Chief Justice John Roberts still outnumber the "Democrats," Justices John Paul Stevens, Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Moreover, justices often do not rule along political lines. Breyer, for example, is known as a social liberal but has sided with businesses on many cases. Sotomayor would replace Justice David Souter, nominated by Republican President George H.W. Bush, who has sided with the more liberal wing of the court on many issues. Stevens, appointed by Republican President Gerald Ford, is considered to be a liberal justice. In recent years, Justice Kennedy has often been a swing vote.
It's also entirely possible that Obama may have the opportunity to choose more than one Supreme Court justice. Stevens is 89 years old. Earlier this year, Justice Ginsburg had surgery for pancreatic cancer, but she has shown no signs of stepping down from the court. His pick, therefore, is more indicative of how the court may look decades down the road, not so much about what may happen immediately.
In announcing the selection of Sotomayor, President Obama emphasized her sterling academic credentials--Sotomayor received her undergraduate degree from Princeton, graduating summa cum laude. Her law degree is from Yale University, where she was an editor of the Yale Law Journal. She was appointed to the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit 11 years ago by Bill Clinton and before that was appointed a United States District Judge by George H.W. Bush in 1992.
Sotomayor said she would "strive to never forget the real world consequences of my decision on individuals, businesses and government," in remarks at the White House Tuesday.
Until now, Sotomayor has been most famous for siding with the players' union to end the 1995 Major League Baseball strike. As a judge in Manhattan, she is also well versed in securities law.
Sotomayor's confirmation hearings are expected to continue throughout the summer. Obama has indicated that he wants to have her seated by the time the Supreme Court begins its next session in October.
Republicans are likely to draw out the process.
"We need to ask tough questions to learn how this individual views the role of a Supreme Court justice," said Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. "The last 25 years of Senate review of nominees has been entirely different than the first 200 years, and today the Senate can't just be a rubber stamp for President Obama's nominees."