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The Three Year Anniversary of Justice Sotomayor’s Nomination to the Supreme Court

Justice Sotomayor

Three years ago, President Obama appointed Justice Sotomayor to the Court.

Three years ago today, President Obama nominated Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court.  The nomination was the President’s first Supreme Court appointment and marked the historic induction of the first Hispanic judge to the Court.  Sotomayor succeeded Justice David H. Souter, having announced his retirement earlier that year, and was sworn in by Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., in August 2009.

On August 6, 2009, the Senate voted 68-31 in favor of the appointment of Judge Sotomayor: 31 Republican no votes to 57 Democrat and 9 Republican yes votes.  Republicans in the Senate displayed similar reasoning for voting against the new judge, generally disagreeing with, among other things, Justice Sotomayor’s prior judicial decisions, her interpretation of the Second Amendment, and her purported use of judicial activism to use her personal beliefs to mold the law.

Senator Jim DeMint (R – South Carolina) announced in a press release: “Unfortunately, Judge Sotomayor has not inspired confidence that she will consistently base her decisions on our Constitution and laws. For these reasons, I plan to oppose Judge Sotomayor’s nomination, because all Americans deserve fair and equal treatment based on the Constitution and laws as written.”  Senator David Vitter of Louisiana cited judicial activism in his decision, noting, “The Constitution is clear that Supreme Court justices must interpret the law and not legislate from the bench. I’m not certain that Judge Sotomayor will be able to refrain from legislating from the bench, and more important, I believe President Obama is counting on her to do so based on his own past statements in support of an activist judiciary.”

The Second Amendment debate surfaced in the opinion of many Republican Senators, including Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, who in 2008 co-led an amicus curiae favoring a strict interpretation of the Second Amendment.  In July 2009, Senator Hutchison expressed her reservations about Judge Sotomayor’s Second Amendment views: “I remain concerned about [Sotomayor's] views on the Second Amendment. I cannot reconcile her opinion that the Second Amendment is not an individual right protected from state infringement with the Supreme Court’s Heller decision.”

Since Justice Sotomayor’s confirmation by the Senate, she has served as the third female justice in the history of the court and is one of two women on the Roberts court today.  One of four left-leaning judges, Justice Sotomayor has maintained a voting record exemplifying her liberalism; for example, in such landmark cases as McDonald v. Chicago, Citizens United v. FEC, and Berghuis v. Thompkin, Justice Sotomayor voted in line with her liberal cohorts.  Justice Sotomayor notably authored the dissent opinion of the Court for the case of Berghuis v. Thompkins, which Justices Stevens, Ginsburg, and Breyer joined.

On this day in 2009, many liberal Obama supporters felt proud and hopeful that the conservative Court may soon shift toward progress instead of toward partisan decision-making and suffocatingly strict interpretations of the Constitution.  Today, with a court of five conservatives and four liberals, a major argument scheduled for June, and a presidential election in November, it’s harder to feel confident in the Supreme Court.  Gleaning from Justice Sotomayor’s comments during the healthcare hearings in late March, which by all means may have simply been her effort to play Devil’s advocate, I’m willing to predict that the justice will support the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act.

“We get tax credits for having solar-powered homes,” Justice Sotomayor began, questioning a witness from Florida. “We get tax credits for using fuel-efficient cars. Why couldn’t we get a tax credit for having health insurance and saving the government from caring for us?”  Later during the hearing, Justice Sotomayor argued, “There is government compulsion in almost every economic decision because the government regulates so much. It’s a condition of life that some may rail against,” but a necessity nevertheless.

If Justice Sotomayor abides by her words at the debates, and stands by the man who nominated her for the Court, I think she will vote to uphold the current healthcare law next month.  In short, I’m not too worried about Justice Sotomayor’s inclinations toward the Affordable Care Act.  It’s the rest of the Court I’m worried about.

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About the author

Amanda Sands

Amanda is the AU Dems Activities Director. She is a rising sophomore studying Political Science and Creative Writing.