Justice Sotomayor Carves New Niche on Book Tour

The Associated Press picture with a New York Times article about Justice Sonia Sotomayor is not your usual Supreme Court photo: At a book-reading event, the judge smiles while giving a bear hug to a 7-year-old girl in the audience. People surrounding the pair watch approvingly.

Justice Sotomayor is traveling widely to read and sign copies of her memoir, “My Beloved World,” in a way that the Times says suggests she “wants to play a larger and more personal role in public than her colleagues.”

Her readings “have the air of celebratory happenings, attended by entire families, people who left work early to line up for tickets and acolytes who quote her recent interviews from memory,” reporter Jodi Kantor writes. Her  book has arrived at Number One New York Times best-seller list for hardcover nonfiction. Other justices have written memoirs, sold them successfully and attracted crowds, but they aren’t quite like Justice Sotomayor.

Talking to the Times at a Chicago event, she emphasized the importance of serving as a role model, and accorded it greater meaning than her jurisprudence.


Justice Sotomayor's Memoir Sparks Media Blitz

The weekend produced a  media blitz about Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s autobiography, “My Beloved World.”

While the book is short on clues about her legal philosophy, one of the most intriguing reviews examined her memoir in light of the debate at the time of her nomination — it was 2009 — over President Obama’s spoken desire for empathy as an “essential ingredient” for reaching “just [judicial] decisions and outcomes.” Dahlia Lithwick concludes in her Slate book review :

“The life of the judicial ’empathy standard’ lasted all of about three months in 2009; it ultimately died for lack of a champion. Sotomayor’s memoir may not mollify those who criticized her for once suggesting that sometimes a ‘wise Latina woman’ might arrive at different conclusions than other judges. But credit her with this: Although she said at her confirmation that what’s in a jurist’s heart doesn’t matter, she has spent her life imagining her way into the hearts of everyone around her.


Tuesday Gavel Grab Briefs

After the U.S. Supreme Court left intact certain limits on judicial speech in Wisconsin and Indiana (see Gavel Grab), the executive director of the Wisconsin Judicial Commission commended the outcome.

“I am glad that that’s the court’s decision. Now, more than ever in this state, the importance of a non-partisan and independent judiciary has been shown, and this advances that,” said James Alexander, according to a Wisconsin Law Journal article. He was a defendant in one of the cases.

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • “[Supreme Court Justice Sonia] Sotomayor Pessimistic Public, Senate Will Ever Be Pleased With Judicial Confirmations,” declared a headline for a National Journal article about the judge’s remarks to an audience in New Jersey.
  • New Jersey Gov. Christopher J. Christie has agreed, in a political deal with the Senate president, to nominate Anne Patterson for a state Supreme Court seat that will become vacant after Justice Roberto Rivera-Soto steps down in September, the Newark Star-Ledger reported. The governor backed down from insisting she fill a seat that was vacated when Christie refused to reappoint Justice John Wallace Jr. (see Gavel Grab for background).

Justice Sotomayor's Role on Court is Examined

A flurry of articles in major national newspapers offers analysis about the role that Justice Sonia Sotomayor, a sophomore on the Supreme Court, is assuming.

While she promised senators at her confirmation hearing that empathy would not be part of her work, she “she has displayed a quality — call it what you will — that is alert to the humanity of the people whose cases make their way to the Supreme Court,” Adam Liptak writes in The New York Times.

The article is entitled, “Sotomayor Guides Court’s Liberal Wing.” It  quotes from several opinions in which she criticized the court’s decision not to review a case, such as one involving a Louisiana prisoner with H.I.V.  When prisoner Anthony Pitre stopped taking his medication, as a way to protest his move between facilities, he was required to do hard labor in high heat. Justice Sotomayor wrote:

“Pitre’s decision to refuse medication may have been foolish and likely caused a significant part of his pain.

“But that decision does not give prison officials license to exacerbate Pitre’s condition further as a means of punishing or coercing him — just as a prisoner’s disruptive conduct does not permit prison officials to punish the prisoner by handcuffing him to a hitching post.” (more…)

Sotomayor's First Term Hardly Typical

UPDATE: Alfred A. Knopf will publish a memoir to be written by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, according to a New York Times blog post.

At the close of her first term on the Supreme Court, Justice Sonia Sotomayor has blended in in some ways and stood out in others, a profile in The Washington Post suggests:

“In some ways, Sotomayor’s just-finished first term on the court was like those of many who have come before her: She worked constantly, turned down interview requests and most speaking engagements, wrote unglamorous and largely noncontroversial opinions and was ideologically true to the president who appointed her. She voted with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg more than any other colleague on the court.

“But the court’s first Hispanic member, and only its third woman, has hardly had the typical first-termer’s experience.”

She won a heroine’s welcome in Puerto Rico, the homeland of her parents. The Bronx public housing complex where she grew up was renamed for her. At the White House, she danced to a song composed in her honor.

Justice Sotomayor hasn’t talked publicly much about life on the nation’s highest court, although she said at a commencement address, “The hours can be long, but I have found that the long hours are painless when you are doing what you love.” At another event, she spoke well of her colleagues, saying, “It is the level of respect and affection that surprised me.”

ABA President on 'Preserving Lady Justice's Blindfold'

“Let’s Leave Politics Out of It” is the apt headline for a commentary by American Bar Association President Carolyn B. Lamm that spells out the ABA’s principles in the context of recent events.

In ABA Journal, Lamm refers to President Obama’s nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court.  “Partisan inquiries into the personal political beliefs of nominees or their positions on pending legal issues are unacceptable,” Lamm writes, pointing to the peer review and scholarly analysis that went into then-Judge Sotomayor’s high rating by the ABA Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary.

When Lamm turns to election of state judges, she warns:

“The financial and political pressures of running for office inevitably undermine the public perception of a prospective judge’s integrity and ultimately create distrust of the fairness of our judicial system.”

Lamm also discusses the landmark Supreme Court decision in Caperton v. Massey. The case involved an issue of potential bias when a judge had benefited from millions of dollars in campaign support from a party to a case. The case, Lamm says, illustrates that the perception problem “is only getting worse:”

“Between 2000 and 2007, state candidates raised $167.8 million—more than double the total raised throughout the entire 1990s. Merit-based appointments via transparent, diverse nominating commissions are the best means of ensuring fair and impartial courts. A judicial system that requires judges to solicit contributions from interests appearing before the court risks removing the blindfold from the eyes of Lady Justice.”

The ABA is a partner of Justice at Stake. You can learn more about Caperton by reading Gavel Grab, and you may read the JAS amicus brief in the case by clicking here. To learn more about merit selection of judges, click here for the JAS issues page on the topic.

More Diversity Soon on Federal Bench?

In the wake of a Brookings Institution study on the changing federal judiciary, the Washington Post puts the data in perspective.

When Judge Sonia Sotomayor was elevated to the Supreme Court, the number of Latina federal appeals court judges declined by one-third, the newspaper reports. And while federal judicial diversity is “relatively low…it’s increasing,” according to the newspaper.

Obama’s nominees would bring much more diversity to the U.S. courts. He has nominated 16 judges besides Sotomayor, and they have not yet won confirmation. They include six white men and two white women; three black men and two black women; two Asian American women and one Asian American man.

Among all 1,268 federal judges employed as of Aug. 11, 13 percent are minorities and 18 percent are women, the Post reports. Among the 768 who are active judges, 18 percent are minorities and 26 percent are female. To see a Gavel Grab posting, including a link to the report, click here.

Sotomayor Update: Obama Honors Court's 'Independence'

Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s swearing in as a U.S. Supreme Court justice not only made political and judicial history–she is the first Hispanic to sit on the highest court–but it also reflected a departure from recent practice for such oath-takings.

Tony Mauro has done some digging and reports in The Blog of Legal Times, where is he is Supreme Court reporter, that Judge Sotomayor’s oath-taking at the U.S. Supreme Court shows a measure of conceding to justices who felt the event had become inappropriately political. After posting the original report, Mauro added this update:  “A White House source says President Barack Obama wanted the oath-taking to occur at the Supreme Court ‘as a symbol of the Court’s independence.’ “

Justice John Paul Stevens discussed his  concerns in February when he gave a talk at the Newseum in Washington, according to BLT. In recent years, the trend was for new justices to take the oath at the White House. Stevens said he thought it was more appropriate to administer the oath at the Supreme Court because “the justice is on his or her own”at the court afterward,  separate from the president who made the selection, BLT reported. (more…)

New Education Ahead for Justice Sotomayor

Good article by Robert Barnes, Supreme Court reporter for the Washington Post, on what comes next for newly confirmed Justice Sonia Sotomayor. The article focuses on what makes the Supreme Court unique as a judicial body, and the steep learning curve for all who go to work there.

Even a federal judge as experienced as Sotomayor, who will be sworn in Saturday, will need time to get used to life as a Supreme Court justice, a quirky job that is tradition-bound but also remarkably open to individual interpretation. …

“It’s a bit daunting, and she’ll come in with no familiarity with Supreme Court procedure,” said Stephen R. McAllister, a University of Kansas law professor who was one of Justice Clarence Thomas’s clerks during his first term on the court.

On questions about whether to overrule the court’s precedents, which she will face in a Sept. 9 hearing on campaign finance, “it will require a mind-set change for her,” McAllister said. “This is the court most free in the federal system to make change, and she’ll have to get used to that.”

As one example of the court’s quirky traditions, the most junior justice takes notes at conference meetings and answers the door when knocked–duties fulfilled by Justice Stephen Breyer for 11 years before Samuel Alito joined the court.

To read the full article, click here.

Sotomayor: After the Vote, Applause and Analysis

Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s elevation to the U.S. Supreme Court by a divided Senate not only marks  an historic milestone but also fuels debate over what it means for the next Supreme battle.

Those are the themes that emerged in news media and the blogosphere after the Senate voted 68 to 31 to make Judge Sotomayor, 55, the first Hispanic and third woman to serve on the Supreme Court.

Across the country, some Hispanics at usually noisy gathering places fell into hushed silence as spectators watched the Senate roll call vote on TV, and erupted in jubilation when the vote concluded, USA Today reported. Others cried with joy.

“Her story is our story,” said Janet Murguia, president of the largest Hispanic civil rights organization, the National Council of La Raza, according to USA Today.

In Puerto Rico, home of Judge Sotomayor’s parents, the owner of a clothing store in downtown Mayaguez said the judge’s achievement made Latinos feel part of the country’s fabric for the first time. “We have representation that we’ve never had before,” Sergio Zeligman told USA Today.

The Hispanic newspaper El Tiempo Latino posted a photograph (see above) of a beaming Judge Sotomayor atop its Web site with the headline, “Confirman a la jueza Sotomayor.” She was raised in a housing project in the South Bronx, lost her father at a young age and rose through Ivy League schooling to become a New York prosecutor and later a federal judge.

In the political arena, the Senate vote–which never was in doubt–handed President Obama’s administration “a significant, early win in the judicial confirmation wars,” according to the Blog of Legal Times.

Nonetheless Republicans  suggested they successfully  framed the debate in a manner that could affect the nominees whom Obama names to the federal judiciary in the future, the Washington Post reported. (more…)