Gavel Grab

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.”

In USA Today, Joan Biskupic writes that Justice Sotomayor “has set herself apart from colleagues with her fervent statements protesting the majority’s refusal to take some appeals, particularly involving prisoners.”

In the Los Angeles Times, David Savage examines the emerging styles of Justices Sotomayor and Elena Kagan in an article that is headlined, “Sotomayor, Kagan shift Supreme Court debates to the left: The liberal wing is no longer drowned out by Scalia and his fellow conservatives during oral argument.”

Here is an excerpt from that article about the contrasting styles of the two newest justices:

“If Sotomayor’s role is to punch and jab as the liberal foil to [Justice Antonin] Scalia, Kagan’s approach is more that of the bridge builder.”

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