Court Watch: Sotomayor's Dissents -- and Temperament
By Garance Franke-Ruta
• The New Republic's Jeffrey Rosen leaves behind questions of courthouse manners for an article that examines the "Sonia Sotomayor you don't know" through a study of her judicial dissents.
"It's often in dissents that appellate judges can express their true selves--their passions, judicial philosophies, and unique views of the law. And Sotomayor's little-noticed dissents are clearly the opinions in which she has the greatest personal investment. Unlike her majority opinions, her dissents sometimes show flashes of civil-libertarian passion or indignation, even as they remain closely grounded in facts and precedents. Most important, they are substantively bold, staking out unequivocal liberal positions--from a broad reading of the Americans with Disabilities Act to sympathy for the due-process rights of a mentally ill defendant," Rosen writes.
"Sotomayor, who published 226 majority opinions on the merits during her more than ten years on the appellate court, published only 21 dissents--a rate slightly below average for appellate judges. Although not always ideologically predictable, they are far more liberal than her majority opinions: According to Stefanie A. Lindquist of the University of Texas, Austin, 63 percent of her dissents can be characterized as liberal, as opposed to 38 percent of her majority opinions. (Only five of the 21 dissents are clearly conservative.) It's in these dissents that a different view of Sotomayor emerges: a judge who can be both crusading and open-minded."
• At The Post, Michael D. Shear takes a look at White House efforts to guide Sotomayor's supporters. "With less than a month before congressional hearings begin on Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court, the White House is trying to quietly guide what staffers describe as an unusually broad network of law enforcement organizations, liberal allies, legal officials, Latino groups and women's organizations that want to see her confirmed," he writes.
"Many of the groups have been biding their time for eight years, champing at the bit as they watched their conservative counterparts usher candidates into seats on the court. That makes the challenge of maintaining message discipline even more difficult for an Obama team that campaigned for the presidency with supreme confidence in its tightly controlled operations."
• And Nina Totenberg at NPR takes on the question of "Is Sonia Sotomayor Mean?" by doing a compare and contrast of Sotomayor's questioning style with that used by the men on the Supreme Court. Her conclusion: "if Sotomayor sometimes dominates oral arguments at her court -- if she is feisty, even pushy -- then she would fit right in at the U.S. Supreme Court."
Totenberg also cites an earlier attempt to neutrally evaluate complaints about Sotomayor's style. "Judge Guido Calabresi, former Yale Law School dean and Sotomayor's mentor, now says that when Sotomayor first joined the Court of Appeals, he began hearing rumors that she was overly aggressive, and he started keeping track, comparing the substance and tone of her questions with those of his male colleagues and his own questions.
"'And I must say I found no difference at all. So I concluded that all that was going on was that there were some male lawyers who couldn't stand being questioned toughly by a woman,' Calabresi says. 'It was sexism in its most obvious form.'"
Posted at 1:15 PM ET on Jun 15, 2009
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