Today President Obama announces his selection of Judge Sonia Sotomayor as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. She is a liberal activist judge with a reputation as a bully, who believes that the courts are supposed to make policy.
Some former clerks and prosecutors expressed concerns about her command of technical legal details: In 2001, for example, a conservative colleague, Ralph Winter, included an unusual footnote in a case suggesting that an earlier opinion by Sotomayor might have inadvertently misstated the law in a way that misled litigants. The most controversial case in which Sotomayor participated is Ricci v. DeStefano, the explosive case involving affirmative action in the New Haven fire department, which is now being reviewed by the Supreme Court. A panel including Sotomayor ruled against the firefighters in a perfunctory unpublished opinion. New Republic
Sotomayor was put on the appeals court by George HW Bush. But the interesting part of it all is that the senate Republicans tried to block the pick, because they were afraid that the next president, Bill Clinton, will pick her for the SCOTUS.
This was the story as reported by the NY Times 11 years ago (H/T Yael from Boker Tov):
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G.O.P., Its Eyes On High Court, Blocks a Judge
By NEIL A. LEWIS
Judge Sonia Sotomayor seemed like a trouble-free choice when President Clinton nominated her to an appeals court post a year ago. Hers was an appealing story: a child from the Bronx housing projects who went on to graduate summa cum laude from Princeton and become editor of the Yale Law Journal and then a Federal prosecutor.
Moreover, she had been a trial judge since 1992, when she was named to the bench by the last Republican president, George Bush.
But Republican senators have been blocking Judge Sotomayor’s elevation to the appeals court for a highly unusual reason: to make her less likely to be picked by Mr. Clinton for the Supreme Court, senior Republican Congressional aides said in interviews.
The delay of a confirmation vote on Judge Sotomayor to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, based in New York, is an example of the intense and often byzantine political maneuverings that take place behind the scenes in many judicial nominations. Several elements of the Sotomayor case are odd, White House officials and Democrats in Congress say, but the chief one is the fact that there is no vacancy on the Supreme Court, and no firm indication that there will be one soon. Nor is there any evidence of a campaign to put Judge Sotomayor under consideration for a seat if there were a vacancy.
Judge Sotomayor’s nomination was approved overwhelmingly by the Senate Judiciary Committee in March. Of the judicial nominees who have cleared the committee in this Congress, she is among those who have waited the longest for a final vote on the floor.
Senate Republican staff aides said Trent Lott of Mississippi, the majority leader, has agreed to hold up a vote on the nomination as part of an elaborate political calculus; if she were easily confirmed to the appeals court, they said, that would put her in a position to be named to the Supreme Court. And Senate Republicans think that they would then have a difficult time opposing a Hispanic woman who had just been confirmed by the full Senate.
”Basically, we think that putting her on the appeals court puts her in the batter’s box to be nominated to the Supreme Court,” said one senior Republican staff aide who spoke on the condition of anonymity. ”If Clinton nominated her it would put several of our senators in a real difficult position.”
Mr. Lott declined through a spokeswoman to comment.
Judge Sotomayor sits on Federal District Court in Manhattan, and the aides said some senators believe that her record on the bench fits the profile of an ”activist judge,” a description that has been used by conservatives to question a jurist’s ability to construe the law narrowly. It is a description that Judge Sotomayor’s supporters, including some conservative New York lawyers, dispute.
Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the senior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, was blunt in his criticism of the Republicans who are blocking a confirmation vote. ”Their reasons are stupid at best and cowardly at worst,” he said.
”What they are saying is that they have a brilliant judge who also happens to be a woman and Hispanic, and they haven’t the guts to stand up and argue publicly against her on the floor,” Senator Leahy said. ”They just want to hide in their cloakrooms and do her in quietly.”
The models for the strategy of putting candidates on appeals courts to enhance their stature as Supreme Court nominees are Judge Robert H. Bork and Judge Clarence Thomas. Both were placed on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in part to be poised for nomination to the Supreme Court. Judge Bork was denied confirmation to the Supreme Court in 1987 and Judge Thomas was confirmed in 1991, in both cases after bruising political battles.
The foundation for the Republicans’ strategy is based on two highly speculative theories: that Mr. Clinton is eager to name the first Hispanic person to the Supreme Court and that he will have such an opportunity when one of the current justices, perhaps John Paul Stevens, retires at the end of the current Supreme Court term next month.
Warnings about the possibility of Judge Sotomayor’s filling Justice Stevens’s seat was raised by the Wall Street Journal’s editorial pages this month, both in an editorial and in an op-ed column by Paul A. Gigot, who often reflects conservative thinking in the Senate.
Although justices often announce their retirements at the end of a term, Justice Stevens has not given a clue that he will do so. He has, in fact, hired law clerks for next year’s term. The Journal’s commentary also criticized Judge Sotomayor’s record, particularly her March ruling in a case involving a Manhattan business coalition, the Grand Central Partnership. She ruled that in trying to give work experience to the homeless, the coalition had violated Federal law by failing to pay the minimum wage.
Gerald Walpin, a former Federal prosecutor who is widely known in New York legal circles as a staunch conservative, took issue with the Journal’s criticism.
”If they had read the case they would see that she said she personally approved of the homeless program but that as a judge she was required to apply the law as it exists,” he said. ”She wrote that the law does not permit an exception in this case. That’s exactly what conservatives want: a nonactivist judge who does not apply her own views but is bound by the law.” Mr. Bush nominated Judge Sotomayor in 1992 after a recommendation from Daniel Patrick Moynihan, New York’s Democratic Senator.
It also remains unclear how some Senate Republicans came to believe that Judge Sotomayor was being considered as a candidate for the Supreme Court. Hispanic bar groups have for years pressed the Clinton Administration to name the first Hispanic justice, but White House officials said they are not committed to doing so. The Hispanic National Bar Association has submitted a list of six candidates for the Supreme Court to the White House. But Martin R. Castro, a Chicago lawyer and official of the group, said Judge Sotomayor’s name is not on the list.
On Sept. 30, the day of her confirmation hearing, Rush Limbaugh, the conservative radio talk show host, warned the Senate that Judge Sotomayor was an ultraliberal who was on a ”rocket ship” to the Supreme Court. That day, Judge Sotomayor was questioned closely by Republicans.
In the end, the only Republicans to vote against her were Senator John Kyl of Arizona and Senator John Ashcroft of Missouri. The committee’s other conservative members, including Orrin G. Hatch of Utah and Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, voted in her favor. Mr. Kyl and Mr. Ashcroft declined to comment today.
The confirmation delay comes as Ralph K. Winter, chief judge of the Second Circuit, has complained that unfilled vacancies on the court have created its worst backlog in history. In his annual report, Judge Winter, a conservative Republican, lamented that he had to declare judicial emergencies several times to allow retired judges and trial judges to sit on appeals panels.