Tag: Supreme Court

Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s Philosophy of Judging

Judge Sonia Sotomayor of the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals has been mentioned as a possible Supreme Court nominee.  She also has been caught on tape explaining her view of a judge’s role.  Reports the Washington Post:

As White House press secretary Robert Gibbs put it, Obama is looking for “somebody who understands how being a judge affects Americans’ everyday lives.”

Congressional conservatives have reacted anxiously to that qualification, fearing that it means a nominee who is more interested in making the law than in interpreting it.

One possible candidate for the seat, Judge Sonia Sotomayor of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, appeared to walk close to that line in a video that emerged yesterday. Sotomayor would be the first Latino and the third woman to serve on the high court.

Speaking at Duke University in 2005, Sotomayor said, “All of the legal defense funds out there, they’re looking for people with court of appeals experience” because “the court of appeals is where policy is made.”

She then sought to soften the statement, adding lightly, “I know this is on tape and I should never say that, because we don’t make law, I know. Um, okay. I know. I’m not promoting it, I’m not advocating it.” The audience laughed as she brushed off the statement, perhaps sarcastically.

Making policy.  Yes, it is indisputable that that’s what judges often do.  But is that what they are supposed to do? 

President Barack Obama seems to think so, when he talks about the importance of “empathy” in judges.  (With whom do I empathize in this First Amendment case:  the U.S. Attorney General or the New York Times?  I vote for the Times!)  However, the Senate might want to debate this issue before approving someone to fill Justice David Souter’s vacancy, especially if the nominee shares the president’s apparent view that empathy is a substitute for jurisprudence in interpreting the law and Constitution.

Can You Sue for a “Psychic Offense”?

The City of San Diego leases portions of Balboa Park and Fiesta Island to the San Diego Boy Scouts, which use the land to operate a camp and aquatic center.  The Boy Scouts use the leased areas for their own events but otherwise keep them open to the general public — and have spent millions of dollars to improve and maintain facilities on the properties, eliminating the need for taxpayer funding.  While the Boy Scouts’ membership policies exclude homosexuals and agnostics, the Scouts have not erected any religious symbols and do not discriminate in any way in administering the leased parklands.

Nevertheless, a lesbian couple with a son and an agnostic couple with a daughter challenged the leases under the Establishment Clauses of the U.S. and California Constitutions.  Although none of the plaintiffs has ever tried to use the parklands or otherwise had any contact with the Boy Scouts, the Ninth Circuit found they had standing to proceed with their lawsuit because they were offended at the idea of having to contact Boy Scout representatives to gain access to the facilities.  The court denied en banc review over a scathing dissent by Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain.

The Boy Scouts have asked the Supreme Court to review the case — whose outcome conflicts with other federal courts of appeal — and Cato joined the Individual Rights Foundation in filing a brief supporting that petition.  Cato’s brief argues that the Ninth Circuit’s decision dangerously confers standing on anybody wishing to challenge the internal policies of expressive associations having any business with local government; chills public/private partnerships of all kinds for reasons disconnected from the beneficial services civic organizations provide the public; and generally represents a radical extension of standing jurisprudence — opening the courthouse doors to anyone claiming to be subjectively offended by any action and manufacturing litigation out of political debates.

The Supreme Court is likely to decide whether to take up the case of Boys Scouts of America v. Barnes-Wallace before the start of the next term this fall.

Justice Souter and the Lost Liberty Inn

This article on Justice Souter’s eagerness to get back to his farmhouse in Weare, New Hampshire, briefly mentions the campaign of Logan Darrow Clements after the Kelo decision to use eminent domain to take Souter’s house and turn it into an inn. After all, he reasoned, Souter voted to uphold the power of government to take property from one private owner and give it to another private owner who might produce more “public benefits” such as tax revenue. That was the reasoning that caused a fiery dissent from the departing Sandra Day O’Connor:

Who among us can say she already makes the most productive or attractive possible use of her property? The specter of condemnation hangs over all property. Nothing is to prevent the State from replacing any Motel 6 with a Ritz-Carlton, any home with a shopping mall, or any farm with a factory….

Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party, but the fallout from this decision will not be random. The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms. As for the victims, the government now has license to transfer property from those with fewer resources to those with more. The Founders cannot have intended this perverse result.

Cooler heads prevailed in Weare, though – or O’Connor’s prediction that “citizens with disproportionate influence” would not be the losers in such proceedings came true – and the citizens of Weare rejected Clements’s proposal. Voters at the town meeting instead urged New Hampshire to adopt a law that forbids seizures of the sort sanctioned by the Supreme Court.

Vetting the Future Supreme Court Justice

In choosing a Supreme Court nominee to replace Justice Souter, President Obama will have an opportunity to avoid the partisanship he promised to reduce on the campaign trail, which his legislative agenda has thus far only exacerbated.

But given the way Bush nominees were treated by Senate Democrats, it won’t be easy. After the stormy confirmation hearings for Judges Bork and Thomas, President Clinton’s nominations of Judges Ginsburg and Breyer sailed through the confirmation process with little opposition and even less acrimony. With the return of Republican nominees after the election of George W. Bush, however, Senate Democrats resumed their scorched earth practices, starting with appellate court nominees and continuing to the nominations of Judges Roberts and Alito to the High Court.

Hearings were never held, filibusters were threatened and reputations were tarnished.

The question now for Senate Republicans will be, is turnabout fair-play?

The answer may turn on just who President Obama selects. At the least, given this recent history, there is no reason Senate Republicans need to be unduly deferential to the president’s nominee. We will need to know both the judicial philosophy and the constitutional philosophy of the nominee.

That will require respectful but sharp questioning by members of the loyal opposition. Their duty under the Constitution requires nothing less.

Republican Strategy on the Supreme Court Vacancy

President Obama is not the only one with a difficult decision to make in the face of mounting pressure from various groups.  The Republicans will have to decide what posture to take: combative or deferential, political or analytical.

With Obama still at the height of his popularity, and with solid Democratic control of the Senate (even without Arlen Specter and Al Franken), the GOP is unlikely to sustain a filibuster or generate significant opposition to any but the most extreme nominee — such as the radical transnationalist Harold Koh, whose nomination to be the State Department’s head lawyer is currently pending.

What Republicans should do instead is force a full public debate about constitutional interpretation and judicial philosophy, laying out in vivid detail what kind of judges they want.  Instead of shrilly opposing whomever Obama nominates on partisan grounds, now is the time to show the American people the stark differences between the two parties on one of the few issues on which the stated Republican view continues to command strong and steady support nationwide.  If the party is serious about constitutionalism and the rule of law, it should use this opportunity for education, not grandstanding.

Who Will Replace Justice Souter?

You could call it the end of an error.  David Souter, the “stealth justice” who George H. W. Bush nominated mainly to avoid a confirmation battle and who so disappointed conservatives, is finally free to leave a city he never took to and return to his native New Hampshire. 

Little more can be said about Justice Souter. He has always been inscrutable, at first leaning right, shifting toward the middle in the landmark 1992 cases of Planned Parenthood v. Casey (abortion) and Lee v. Weisman (prayer at high school graduation), and ending up at the left end of the Court alongside Justices Stevens, Ginsburg, and Breyer – all the while employing an unpredictable jurisprudential method.  And he has always been reclusive, refusing reporters’ and scholars’ interview requests and being the biggest opponent of video cameras inside the Court.  Perhaps most memorably, Souter gained notoriety after his vote in Kelo v. New London (allowing the taking of a private home for the benefit of a developer) spurred property rights activists to petition for the use of eminent domain to turn his farm into the “Lost Liberty Hotel.”

Speculation now turns to possible replacements, and what President Obama will do with his first chance to fill a seat on the high court.  Will he risk a big political battle on this issue so early in his term, or will he appoint someone more confirmable but less pleasing to his base? 

He is under great pressure to appoint a woman, and the three leading female candidates are new Solicitor General Elena Kagan, Second Circuit Judge Sonia Sotomayor, and Seventh Circuit Judge Diane Wood.  Kagan would be an almost-certain pick a year from now, but having been just confirmed to be the so-called Tenth Justice, she might be seen as too green for elevation.  Sotomayor — because she is Hispanic and despite a mixed judicial record — was the odds-on favorite until the Court took up the employment discrimination case of Ricci v. DeStefano (argued just last week), an appeal of a bizarre opinion Sotomayor joined that denied the claims of firefighters who had been passed over for promotion because of their race.  That leaves Wood, a renowned authority on antitrust, international trade, and federal civil procedure, whose age (58) suggests that this is likely the last vacancy for which she will be considered.  Wood offers a seriousness of purpose and no ideological ax to grind, and is thus the best nominee supporters of constitutionalism and the rule of law can hope for at this time.  (Full disclosure: I took two classes from Judge Wood in law school.)

New at Cato

New articles, videos and Podcasts today:

  • In the Chicago Tribune, David Boaz questions whether Arlen Specter’s party change will take the Senate further to the left.
  • Watch Brandon Arnold discuss Obama’s first 100 days in office on BNN Canada.
  • For  more on Obama’s first 100 days, watch Gene Healy’s interview on AP TV.
  • Chris Preble will be on Capitol Hill again on May 11 with Jim Harper to explain why overreaction and misdirection play into the strategy of terrorism.
  • In Thursday’s Cato Daily Podcast, legal scholar Ilya Shapiro discusses how a Supreme Court decision could change racial preference hiring laws in the United States.