Court of Appeals Judge Sonia Sotomayor is name most talked about as Justice Souter’s possible replacement.
What do we know about her?
Originally appointed to the federal court by President George H.W. Bush, Sotomayor was elevated to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals by President Clinton. Born in 1954, she’s a graduate of Yale Law School and served as assistant district attorney for New York County from 1979-1984.
In the next few days and weeks, we’re likely to hear a lot more on Sotomayor’s legal opinions, which will become fodder in a possible confirmation battle.
As a preliminary sketch, here are a few of the more colorful cases Sotomayor helped decide. NOTE: I am not a lawyer, so I can’t speak to the constitutional significance of each of these decisions.
In 2004, a panel of judges including Sotomayor revoked the citizenship of Jack Reimer, then 96, when it came to light that Reimer had served in the German Army in WWII. Here’s the twist: Reimer was originally drafted into the Russian Army, but was captured by the Germans in June 1941. He was forced to train as a guard and, prosecutors alleged, helped clear Jewish ghettos forcibly. Prosecutors alleged Reimer had misrepresented his wartime activities when he originally applied for a U.S. visa under the Displaced Persons Act.
Here’s how Sotomayor ruled:
“As an initial matter, Reimer argues that it would be unjust to consider his wartime conduct ‘assistance’ in persecution, contending that he was obliged either to go along with the commands of his superiors or face death himself,” Sotomayor wrote. “This argument, however, is plainly foreclosed by Fedorenko. There, the Supreme Court rejected the argument that those forced into the Nazis’ service should not be held responsible for their conduct, reasoning that, if Congress had intended for visas to be withheld from only those who voluntarily assisted in persecution, it would have stated so in the [Displaced Persons Act].”
In September 2003, Sotomayor joined in a ruling that upheld the constitutionally of so-called “perp walks” for alleged criminals. As long as there is not an “an inherently fictional dramatization” involved in the scene, the court ruled, perp walks could continue.
“The image of the accused being led away to contend with the justice system powerfully communicates government efforts to thwart the criminal element, and it may deter others from attempting similar crimes,” wrote Judge Fred Parker.
In 2004, Sotomayor joined a ruling that upheld a law targeted at the Ku Klux Klan that would ban mask-wearing in public.
“The masks that the American Knights seek to wear in public demonstrations does not convey a message independently of the robe and hood,” the court decided. “That is, since the robe and hood alone clearly serve to identify the American Knights with the Klan, we conclude that the mask does not communicate any message that the robe and the hood do not. The expressive force of the mask is, therefore, redundant.”
This is only a tiny glimpse of Sotomayor’s legal philosophy. Stay tuned as operatives on both sides of the fight dredge up past opinions of all the possible nominees.