Courting Public Opinion

C. Catania

By Chuck Catania

As the new session in the Supreme Court gets underway, we are obliged to re-examine the Roberts Court. This summer, rhetoric of Sonya Sotomayor’s confirmation left Republicans and conservatives split. To oppose or to confirm, that is the question. Opposition, in many ways, was purely political, as is most opposition to Supreme Court appointees nowadays. Senator Jeff Sessions, among others in the more conservative side of the Republican Party, showed fierce resistance, and not surprisingly, in the end, symbolically rejected her nomination.

I’d like to take the time to point out that Justice Sotomayor is, despite what our politics may like to suggest, very qualified to serve on the bench. It is a fallacy to believe that opposition to a nominee from certain segments of the political establishment is indicative that they are not innately qualified to serve. To see that, one must look only as far as Barack Obama’s resistance to now Chief Justice Roberts, freely admitting that Roberts was more than qualified for the position and instead opposing his nomination on a purely political basis.

This degree of politics in judiciary nominations is actually a fairly recent phenomenon. Now that it has realized its role in today’s world, however, I’d like to reconsider the Sotomayor record. We all know of the “wise Latina” comments which made national news during her hearing, but it is time to ask: is there more?  The answer may be a resounding yes.

As a wise, Catholic, Latina woman, she freely admits to have been shaped by the issues that she has faced throughout her life. Aside from that, however, she also thinks of herself as an advocate for the law. Many conservatives, myself included, held reservations about Justice Sotomayor’s record, mainly on the basis of her rulings on the Second Amendment. Until the recent Keller decision, however, it is arguable that her decision on a New York state law did truly follow the letter of the law.

In fact, in viewing most of Sotomayor’s rulings, one can come to the conclusion that she is the most conservative justice that we could have possibly hoped for, coming from Obama at least. No, she is not conservative in the brand of Scalia, but perhaps, she is conservative in following and confining her rulings to the letter of the law. I believe that now it is time to look past Sotomayor’s heritage and into something more substantive and quantitative.

As much as I respect Representative Tancredo, I truly believe that we are not doing ourselves favors by making comparisons of Sotomayor’s affiliation with La Raza to her voting record. Instead, I’d like to look at what her rulings really say about her view of “racial bias.” In the last 50 cases on racial bias that Justice Sotomayor reviewed (aside from her controversial ruling in the New Haven, Connecticut “firefighter case”), the panel on which she sat affirmed that three were truly cases of racial bias, all of which were unanimous rulings.  What about all the others that were denied, you ask? Sotomayor never dissented.

On issues of abortion, gay marriage, and capital punishment, among many others, Sotomayor has not left much of a paper trail in her years on the bench. Perhaps this is where her experiences as a “wise Latina” will show.

Much hinges on the newest Justice of the Supreme Court. Will she push the court into becoming more liberal? Not likely. Will it become more conservative? This is only a question that time itself will answer, although we would be wise to allow Justice Sotomayor a few years to acclimate to her new position before we criticize the outcomes— something to which Justice Souter himself is a testament.

All of this isn’t to say that we do not need to be wary of any judicial appointee, especially to those destined for the highest court in the land. However, it is important to realize that our Founding Fathers were deliberate in their efforts to keep the Judicial System out of politics, and that, by our very own constitutionalist standards, must be respected.

Chuck Catania is a student at Harding University and a contributing member of The Arkansas Patriot.  Contact Chuck at ccatania@harding.edu

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