Political Physics: I Told You President Obama Reads Political Physics!


a blogumn by Monique King-Viehland

obama_and_sotomayorIn my May 5th Political Physics Blog entitled “Adding My Two Cents to the Supreme Court Fray,” I gave President Obama some advice on the selection of a candidate to replace Supreme Court Justice David Souter.  I believed then – as I do now – that the right candidate could fundamentally alter the makeup of the court.  And with issues like gay marriage, minority rights, stem cell research, abortion, immigration, privacy rights, etc. it is clear how critical these choices will be.

So I suggested that President Obama:

1. Appoint women and people of color.

2. Appoint younger Justices.

3. Appoint justices with liberal or moderate legal outlooks.

So to recap: women, people of color, young with liberal or moderate legal outlooks.

Well, on May 26th President Obama nominated US Appellate Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor.

According to Wikipedia, US Appellate Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor is of “Puerto Rican descent, and was born in the Bronx.  Sotomayor graduated with an A.B., summa cum laude, from Princeton University in 1976, and received her J.D. from Yale Law School in 1979, where she was an editor at the Yale Law Journal.  She worked as an Assistant District Attorney in New York for five years before entering private practice in 1984. She played an active role on the boards of directors for the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, the State of New York Mortgage Agency, and the New York City Campaign Finance Board. Sotomayor was nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York by President George H. W. Bush in 1991 and confirmed in 1992.”

If confirmed, she would be the court’s first Latina justice and third female justice.

Women?  Check.  Person of color?  Check.

Sonia Sotomayor is 54 years old.  I recommended in my blog that Obama appoint someone in there 40’s or 50’s.  According to Freep.Com, given that justices serve life terms Obama’s nominee “could serve well into the 2030’s on the high court.”

Younger justice?  Check.

I also recommended a justice with liberal or moderate legal outlooks.  Sotomayor sat on the circuit court for ten years.  During that time she heard appeals in more than 3,000 cases and wrote nearly 400 opinions.  The Supreme Court reviewed five of those cases, reversing three and affirming two.  According to the National Law Journal that is “not [a] high number for an appellate judge of that many years and a typical percentage of reversals.”  And though Sotomayor received high ratings from liberal public interest groups, she is typically regarded as a centrist or moderate judge.

Liberal or moderate legal outlook?  Check.

Four out of four, huh?  So I guess I was right, President Obama does read “Political Physics!”

Thank you Mr. President for heeding my advice.  Feels like I got that advisor job, even though your folks never called me back.

Now I should be honest that I have some concerns about Judge Sotomayor.  Her comment (and yes, I know it was years ago but everything is fair game during confirmation hearings) about how “…a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life,” will only help to fuel Republican arguments that she is a liberal, judicial activist who firmly believes in reverse racism.

And she is known for being “a bully on the bench.”  Opponents have argued that she has a very short temper and can sometimes be belligerent and abusive to attorneys arguing before her.  Even if those arguments are overstated, she is not quite the “bridge builder” I had hoped for.

Lastly, I find some of her rulings a little disconcerting.  For example, in a 2002 decision Center for Reproductive Law and Policy v. Bush, Sotomayor found that a policy to refuse funding for pro-choice organizations did not constitute a violation of equal protection, as “the government is free to favor the anti-abortion position over the pro-choice position, and can do so with public funds.”  I think any decision that says the government can use public money to assert one political view over another is dangerous.

But hey, President Obama clearly read my blog.  So hopefully he did not miss the part about “picking nominees like himself who can build bridges across the legal spectrum as the court continues to tackle issues that will change the fabric of our country.”

Either way, assuming her nomination stands (e.g., she does not withdraw or President Obama does not change his mind); I have no doubt that Judge Sonia Sotomayor will be confirmed.