Jun 5, 2000 13 Comments ›› Pat Dollard
Sonia Sotomayor told the Senate on Thursday that the White House never questioned her about cases or issues she might have to decide as a Supreme Court justice, a disclosure gleaned from reams of documents that reveal she has spoken repeatedly about how her gender and Latina heritage affect her judging.
The federal appeals court judge divulged new details about her finances and provided three decades of writings, speeches and rulings that give both supporters and critics fresh fodder for the coming debate on her confirmation. They include more instances in which she said she hopes a “wise Latina” would reach a better decision than a man without that experience.
The comments in 2002 and 2003 echo a much-criticized remark she made in 2001 at the University of California-Berkeley law school that has prompted a furor among conservatives who say they suggest President Barack Obama’s first Supreme Court nominee brings a personal bias to her legal decisions.
Obama has said he is “sure she would have restated it.” In fact, she said it almost precisely the same way in speeches to the Princeton Club in 2002 and one at Seton Hall law school in 2003, according to copies she sent the Senate.
Sotomayor has told senators in private meetings this week that while her background shapes who she is, she believes judges should follow the law above all.
The documents also reveal that the White House first contacted Sotomayor about the nomination four days before Justice David Souter announced he would retire.
Sotomayor first got a call from White House counsel Greg Craig on April 27, then had near-daily contact with his office after Souter’s announcement May 1. She spoke to about a dozen White House aides during the secretive selection process, leading to a face-to-face interview with Obama on May 21.
The president took the Memorial Day weekend to mull his selection, then announced it May 26. Sotomayor would be the first Hispanic and the third woman to serve on the court.
The documents provide a fuller portrait of Sotomayor, 54, who was reared in the Bronx and educated in the Ivy League. She likes dining on pig intestines and reading legal thrillers. She lists luxury brands Fendi, Ferrari and Bulgari as past clients — but also once recused herself from a case involving the discount retailer B.J.’s Wholesalers because she was a member.
The files were delivered in five cartons to Capitol Hill in response to a Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire. They arrived as Sotomayor wrapped up a series of one-on-one meetings with more than two dozen senators.
“I get to sleep in my own bed tonight,” she quipped to reporters before disappearing into an elevator en route to an evening shuttle back to New York.
The White House and Senate Democrats said her quick response to the committee’s questionnaire should pave the way for prompt hearings.
“This historically fast completion of the exhaustive questions is no small feat that will hopefully lead to her swift consideration by the Senate,” Craig blogged on the White House Web site.
Republicans are resisting Democrats’ calls for a speedy set of hearings and summertime vote. They say it will take until September to slog through Sotomayor’s nearly 17 years worth of rulings and to scrutinize her approach as a judge.
The financial documents paint a portrait of a New Yorker in an expensive neighborhood who has to watch her budget. She has $1.16 million in assets, but $418,350 in debts, including her mortgage, credit card bills and a big dental bill. She listed her bank balance as $31,985. Previous financial disclosure reports put her annual income at about $200,000.
In listing her most significant cases as a trial lawyer, Sotomayor highlighted the successful prosecution of two men on child pornography charges in 1983. She said the case was the first child porn prosecution in New York after the Supreme Court upheld state law in 1982.
Describing her five years as a prosecutor, Sotomayor put importance on her case against a man dubbed the Tarzan Murderer because of his habit of climbing and leaping between buildings. He was convicted and sentenced to a minimum of 62 1/2 years in prison.
Sotomayor listed 32 cases in which her decisions were either reversed or affirmed with “significant criticism.” In several of those cases, higher courts did not take issue with her reasoning but ordered reviews because of subsequent rulings in other cases.
The Supreme Court directly reversed five appellate rulings Sotomayor wrote or participated in as a judge on the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. One was a case in which the high court said Sotomayor was wrong in concluding that the Clean Water Act doesn’t allow cost to be considered when deciding what technology would best minimize environmental impacts.
The documents provide an insight on how Sotomayor might approach deliberations on a nine-member Supreme Court that decides many cases by a 5-4 vote. In a 2000 speech, she talked about what it’s like to serve on a three-judge appellate court panel and fail to convince fellow judges of her views.
“In such cases, one can feel powerless and wonder why the others were not persuaded by what one took to be so salient in the case,” she said. “There is, on the other hand, a singularly satisfying feeling that one gets when one has arrived at a particularly penetrating analysis and is able to convince both of one’s colleagues of its merit.”
The speeches also reveal she has spoken highly of Justice Antonin Scalia, whom she introduced during a September 2001 event at Hofstra Law School as a powerful thinker who has spoken about the role of federal judges in “illuminating ways.”
“I understand Justice Scalia’s jurisprudence to begin with a proposition that we should all agree to — namely, that judges should try to interpret the law correctly, and without personal or political bias,” Sotomayor said.