Sonia Maria Sotomayor is the first Hispanic to serve the United States Supreme Court. This makes her the third female to serve and the 111th Supreme Court Justice to represent our democratic nation. By right, Justice Sotomayor is an individual to be examined and analyzed. She was nominated by President Barak Obama just one year into his presidency and proves to be an influential Justice. Justice Sotomayor provides sound judgments of distinction and clarity. By understanding her previous decision characteristics, stance, and style, we see the important role she plays in the current atmosphere of America’s judicial system.
At the time of President Obama’s election, Sotomayor already served 10 years as an Appellate Court Judge for the U.S District Court of Appeals, (Biography, 2012). In a span of 15 years, she made a reputation for herself through her careful and decisive rulings. One example was the 1995 case against Major League Baseball owners whose actions canceled the World Series in Silverman v. Major League Baseball Player Relations Committee Inc. In this case, Sotomayor issued an injective against collective bargaining. Another was Ricci v DeStefano, where White employees sued the fire department because they “scored high in testing but were denied promotions because there were no minority candidates”, (NY Times, 2012). In this case the Appeals Court rejected the firefighter’s argument. However, when this same case was presented to the Supreme Court, the court overturned the lower court in a split vote 5-4. As a result, Justice Sotomayor made a reputation for herself, known for her fair decisions and sound judgments. In the year of 2009, by a congressional decision of 68 to 31, Sonia Maria Sotomayor was sworn in as a justice in the U.S Supreme Court.
Justice Sotomayor is of Puerto Rican decent born 1954 in Bronx, New York. Her father died when she was 9 years old and was raised by a single mother. Yet, Justice Sotomayor excelled through High School and found herself at Princeton University. While there she received the support from campus Puerto Rican organizations helping her adapt to Ivy League culture. She received additional support with ESL barriers and help with writing, (Biography, 2012).As a result, Justice Sotomayor graduated with honors in 1976 and went on to Yale School of Law before passing the bar in 1980. Her first job was as prosecutor before becoming a litigation lawyer. However, it was her pro bono work with the Board of Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, the New York City Campaign Finance Board, and the New York Mortgage Agency, that caught the attention of Senator Edward Kennedy and Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Senator Kennedy and Senator Moynihan played a significant role in her appointment to US District Court Judge for the Southern District of New York City. She was nominated by then President George H.W Bush in 1992, (Biography, 2012).
Her heritage, New York upbringing, and being raised by a single mother significantly influenced her outlook on life. However, her findings and decisions often do not reflect this. Moreover, she promotes equal rights and policy, whether or not others agree or take offence. Taking note of current social influences, Justice Sotomayor made decisions based on precedent. Consequently, Sotomayor takes a liberal stance in her rulings.
A District Judge, Justice Sotomayor’s developed a unique style of judgment. Justice Sotomayor is liberal, taking diverse stance toward justice and equality. In her judgments, she is cautious of her approach, deeply analyzing the case and its significant factors. This way she is able to determine her judgment from a specific stand point within jurisdiction of law. One researcher states that, “…overall, Judge Sotomayor opinions defy easy categorization along ideological lines”, (Henning & Thomas, 2009). As a District Judge, Sotomayor made significant stance towards Establishment Clause Jurisprudence, which refers back to first amendment rights. In Mehdi v United States Postal Service (1997), Justice Sotomayor ruled the U. S Post Office had to either include the Islamic crescent and star along with the Christmas tree and Chanukah that was already on display or take down all holiday decorations, (Estes, 2010). In rulings such as this she did not favor one religion over the other. Instead she encouraged equal rights and the separation between church and state. Here, Justice Sotomayor stressed the “…importance and breath of the constitutional protections of religious freedom, especially religious speech and free exchange of diverse speech”, (Estes, 2010).
As Justice Sotomayor began to gain notoriety and respect for her rulings, she was soon promoted to a higher position. She only served as District Judge for six years before nominated for the United States Second Circuit Court of Appeals in 1998 by former President William Clinton, (Biography, 2012). In this jurisdiction she continued to display liberal views pertaining to implementation and enforcement of constitutional rights. Again using freedom of speech and religion as an example, evidence of this can be seen in the case Okewedy v Molinari, 1999. Mr. Okewedy, a preacher, bought a billboard near a homosexual community that quoted biblical scripture against homosexuality. The billboard was later removed by force. The court decided that Mr. Okewedy had the right to freedom of speech through his first Amendment rights. However, the Court ruled in favor of Molinari citing that Mr. Okewedy violated county policy against “intolerance and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation”, (Estes, 2010). As a result, the Court of Appeals ruled that 1st amendment rights were not violated when the billboard removed. Further evidence of Justice Sotomayors analytical findings and liberal views can been seen in the case Friedman v. Clarkstown Central school District (2004). In this case, a mother was suing the local school district because of access denial. The school denied the child entrance and participation in the public school because the child did not meet immunization standards. The mother claimed religious reasons for not immunizing the child against diseases and accused the school of denying her religious freedom. The court dismissed the case, deciding, “…the mother failed to demonstrate a nexus between her sincerely held religious beliefs and a basis for refusal to immunize her son”, (Estes, 2010). Had she provided adequate substantiation of her religious views and practices, the court may have ruled in favor of Ms. Freidman. These rulings express Justice Sotomayor’s views and style when it comes to court decisions. Evidence of Sotomayor’s ideology can be found in Supreme Court decisions.
The March 2012 New York Times article, appears to mock Justice Sotomayor stating that she “…seems to relish going it alone as the courts liberated voice of conscious”. While they may be condescending in their overview, Justice Sotomayor has continued to set herself apart. She displays quality research, knowledge, comprehension, and understanding of the system and American constitution. Within this framework she maintains quality decisions based on rights given to all citizens as prescribed by the United States of America. An example of this can be seen in Salazar v Ramah Navajo Chapter, 2011. In this case, Justice Sotomayor ruled in a split 5-4 decision on contracting laws. The decision held that, “…the government is required to pay in full for work the tribes carry out administering for federal programs even though Congress has set a statutory cap on how much can be paid”, (Hurley, 2012). Her decision held the government responsible for paying back respected parties, whether or not there is money to pay for it. This case emphasizes the importance of government and the balance between executive, legislative, and judicial branch. Justice Sotomayor ensures that Congress upholds bargains made with sovereign nations such as the Navajo. Her reasoning for her stance is displayed in her earlier rulings, following change and trajectory of society. Writing for the majority, the decision maintained the findings of previous predecessors stating that “…the ruling was consistent with longstanding principles of government contracting law”, (Hurley, 2012). As a result, affiliates of the New York Times call Sotomayor a “hard-charging liberal”, which she does whole heartedly and without conviction, (2012).
Justice Sotomayor made an important decision upholding Congress to their responsibility. In the summer of 2012, Justice Sotomayor joined a 5-3 decision relating to immigration laws, (Winkler, 2012). The decision held the Federal Government responsible for immigration and documentation. This took the rights away from local police officers to handle issues of immigration. Like before, the ruling held Congress responsible. This changes current laws enforced in various states across the country including Georgia, Utah, Arizona, and South Carolina. It ensures that local authorities do not over step their boundaries and allow Congress and their perspective governmental agencies to implement and enforce immigration law.
Most importantly, her decision process is reflected in the important decision of Obama’s 2008-2012 presidency- national healthcare, better known as ObamaCare. As observed earlier, Justice Sotomayor ensures that government implements law according to their jurisdiction. With ObamaCare, Justice Sotomayor joined Justice Robert’s decision finding Obama’s bill for national healthcare reform constitutional. Justice Sotomayor agreed that jurisdiction remained with Congress on funding and taxing a national healthcare system. The decision ruled that, “individual mandate is not a penalty as the health-care law identified it, but a tax and therefore a constitutional application of Congress taxation and power”, (Wegman, 2012). This decision will change the quality of life for millions of Americans. It will make healthcare affordable and available to people who either could not afford healthcare or inconvenienced by healthcare premiums. This ruling, among others, demonstrates how she maintains justice and order through the laws and policy of the American constitution.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor is a woman to be admired. She has paved the way not only for Hispanics, but also women and people of color. Justice Sotomayor represents America and our American Justice System. Distinctly setting herself apart, her opinions are different from her colleagues. Although she has been in office since 2009, Justice Sotomayor continues make a stance for justice and equality. The New York Time states that in this short period, she has “…written 5 solo dissents and concurrences”, (2012). This only iterates her intention to implement and maintain American justice. She is a woman that provides a good example of how ordinary people can influence and make an impact on our country. By analyzing the imperative facts of the cases, applying appropriate jurisdiction, and maintaining previous rulings, Justice Sotomayor upholds the civil liberties granted to us by God and these United States of America.
Estes, E. (2010). Justice sotomayor and establishment of clause jurisprudence which antiestablishment stand. Journal of Law and Religion, 2(2), Retrieved from http://www.lawandreligion.com/sites/lawandreligion.com/files/Dave Estes Final.pdf
Henning, A., & Thomas, K. Congressional Research Service, CRS Report for Congress. (2009). Judge sonia sotomayor analysis of selected opinions. Retrieved from Congress website: http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R40649.pdf
Hurley, L. (2012, June 18). Supreme court: Interior loses two tribal cases in “bad day for the government”. Mississippi Lime, Retrieved from http://eenews.net/public/Greenwire/2012/06/18/1
Sonia sotomayor. (2012, March 28). New York Times. Retrieved from http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/s/sonia_sotomayor/index.html
Wegman, J. (2012, June 28). Obamacare showdown. The Daily Beast. Retrieved from http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/06/28/explaining-the-supreme-court-ruling-on-obamacare.html
Winkler, A. (2012, June 25). What the supreme court’s arizona ruling means for immigration and health care. The Daily Beast. Retrieved from http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/06/25/what-the-supreme-court-s-arizona-ruling-means-for-immigration-and-healthcare.html