comments_image Comments

Sonia Sotomayor's Background Will Affect Her Judicial Decisions -- and That's a Good Thing

Each justice has their own identities, and these shape their judicial views. This seems to be controversial only if you aren't white and male.

Continued from previous page


She is deferential to law enforcement, leading to decisions like United States v Howard, where she held that state troopers could lure suspects away from their vehicle in order to search it for drugs.

And the decision she wrote in Center for Reproductive Law and Policy v Bush, which held that a Bush-era law limiting reproductive healthcare aid to developing nations did not violate the first amendment, due process or equal protection rights, certainly did not please any reproductive justice advocates.

But those are hardly reflective of her entire body of work as a judge. She's very plaintiff-friendly in discrimination cases. She wrote a dissent arguing that the Voting Rights Act should apply when evaluating state felon disenfranchisement laws. She stood up for first amendment rights in a case where the protected speech/expression was bigoted and presumably not easy to defend. She supported the right of an inmate to bring a case against a private corporation for redress of constitutional violations (a position that was narrowly reversed by the Supreme Court in an opinion written by Rehnquist).

She has written particularly progressive opinions in the area of disability discrimination. She has sustained claims of a hostile work environment in cases where female employees were subjected to sexual harassment and gender discrimination.

It's also worth noting that she is filling the seat of a moderate justice, and that if this confirmation fails, it will be because conservatives succeed in their smear campaign – not because she's unqualified and certainly not because she's too liberal. That means that Obama's next pick would likely be even more middle-of-the-road, and undoubtedly less appealing to feminists and progressives.

Sotomayor is far from a perfect progressive, and even further from the rightwing caricature of her as a liberal activist judge. But her breadth of experience, both professional and personal, make her a highly qualified jurist, and would lend the court much-needed diversity of perspective. She is smart, inquisitive and concerned with justice above all else. And that is precisely what a Supreme Court justice should be.

Jill Filipovic is a lawyer in Manhattan who formerly served as the Gender and Reproductive Justice editor at AlterNet. More of her writing is available online at her blog, Feministe.

See more stories tagged with: