Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Sotomayor’s Decision

President Obama recently appointed Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. Republicans have branded her a "racist" because of a statement she made several years ago that a Latina woman could make a better decision than a white male.

Beyond that one seemingly biased statement is a ruling by the Appellate Court in which it upheld a lower court’s decision in the Frank Ricci case. This was a situation where a white firefighter in New Haven Connecticut studied hard and got a high score on a promotions test, but the city threw out all the scores because no black person passed the test. Being a good American, Ricci sued, claiming discrimination. The lower court denied his claim, and Sotomayor voted to uphold the lower court’s decision. This is enough for some commentators to brand her as biased against all white men.

What seems to be missed in all this is that Judge Sotomayor did not decide on the facts of the case if there was or was not discrimination. She only ruled that the lower court had appropriately applied the law in arriving at its own decision. In this she strictly adhered to the traditional role of the appellate courts in applying the law while leaving it to the lower courts to determine the facts of the case. From my perspective, Sotomayor cannot be fairly charged with bias merely because she followed legal precedent in her vote on this case. Republicans will have to dig deeper if they want to make such a characterization stick.

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