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July 10th, 2009
10:00 PM ET

Sotomayor-Judicial Record

Critics warn confirmation hearings for Judge Sonia Sotomayor could turn into a partisan battle.

Critics warn confirmation hearings for Judge Sonia Sotomayor could turn into a partisan battle.

Bill Mears
CNN Supreme Court Producer

These rulings or cases are from Sonia Sotomayor's service as a trial judge on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York (Manhattan), from 1992-98; and most prominently, an appeals judge on the U-S Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, from 1998. That New York City-based court handles appeals from New York, Connecticut, and Vermont.

Most federal appeals are heard by a three-judge panel that changes from case to case, from a larger pool of full-time judges, which in the 2nd Circuit numbers 12. A particular panel normally hears oral arguments, and has the option of issuing a full opinion. Sotomayor wrote opinions in many of the appeals listed below, but not all. In some bigger cases, the full circuit court will re-hear a case.

1. WORKPLACE DISCRIMINATION – Ricci v. Stefano (2008)

  • AT ISSUE: "Reverse" discrimination claim over a city's duty to carry out the results of employment tests even if they reduce job opportunities for minority workers. New Haven, CT officials used their discretion to decline certifying results of exams for promotions that would make disproportionately more whites eligible for promotions than minority applicants. City was concerned certifying them would lead to allegations of racial discrimination. Involves 20 firefighters led by white plaintiff Frank Ricci who sued after being denied promotion to lieutenant.
  • HOW SHE RULED: Upheld rejection of the white firefighters' lawsuit, but the three-judge panel she was a part did not issue a full explanation of their decision, drawing criticism from other judges.
  • QUOTE FROM ORAL ARGUMENT: "We're not suggesting that unqualified people be hired..." but "if your test is going to always put a certain group at the bottom of the pass rate so they're never, ever going to be promoted, and there is a fair test that could be devised that measures knowledge in a more substantive way, then why shouldn't the city have an opportunity to try to look and see if it can develop that?"
  • IMPACT: Her ruling was overturned by the Supreme Court June 27, 2009.

2. ENVIRONMENT – Riverkeeper v. EPA (2007)

  • AT ISSUE: Whether the Clean Water Act allows the EPA to use a cost-benefit analysis when approving the most environmentally friendly technology at cooling water intake structures. Her appeals court said companies must adopt the best technology available, a standard utility companies say would prove too costly.
  • HOW SHE RULED: 2nd Circuit opinion was written by Sotomayor, who ruled for the environmental groups. Supreme Court reversed.
  • QUOTE FROM HER RULING: "Congress has already specified the relationship between cost and benefits in requiring that the technology designated by the EPA be the best available."

3. FEDERAL LAWSUIT LIABILITY – Makeso v. Correctional Services Corp. (2000)

  • AT ISSUE: Do lawsuits against the government extend to federal contractors. A federal prisoner sued a contractor running the facility because guards allegedly made him climb stairs, despite knowing he had a heart condition. He later had a heart attack when falling down stairs, also suffering other injuries. The man was in a halfway house for securities fraud.
  • HOW SHE RULED: The appeals panel on which she sat ruled for the man. In her opinion, she concluded, under a 1971 Scotus precedent, companies performing government functions could be sued the same as federal employees. The high court reversed, saying only individual employees, not corporations, could be sued for any such violations.
  • QUOTE FROM HER RULING: "Extending Bivens [previous high court precedent] liability to reach private corporations furthers [its] overriding purposes: providing redress for violations of constitutional rights."

4. DISABILITIES – Bartlett v. NY State Board of Law Examiners (1999)

  • AT ISSUE: Workplace discrimination claim over whether a person with learning and reading disability deserved extra time to take her bar exams.
  • HOW SHE RULED: Favored the woman and ordered the state to accommodate, saying test scores alone were not enough to determine a disability diagnosis. Supreme Court ordered the court to re-examine the issue, concluding that if someone is able to function like others with the help of glasses, medication, or otherwise compensating for their disabilities, they were not protected under the ADA. Upon reexamining the case, Sotomayor and her fellow judges again ruled for the woman.
  • QUOTE FROM HER RULING: "By its very nature, diagnosing a learning disability requires clinical judgment."

5. STRIP SEARCHES – N.G. and S.G. v. Connecticut (2004)

  • AT ISSUE: Did administrators have proper discretion to conduct a strip search on female students? Involves searches of girls at juvenile detention centers in Connecticut.
  • HOW SHE RULED: She dissented from two male colleagues, who found some searches were legal, thereby shielding school officials from liability. The Supreme Court is currently deciding a similar case from Arizona involving a 13-year-old girl strip searched by officials looking for ibuprofen.
  • QUOTES FROM HER DISSENT: Searches were "embarrassing and humiliating. The officials inspected the girls' naked bodies front and back, and had them lift their breasts and spread out folds of fat." Criticized the other judges who she said dismissed "the privacy interests of emotionally troubled children." "Our caselaw consistently has recognized the severely intrusive nature of strip searches and has placed strict limits on their use."

6. SECOND AMENDMENT – Maloney v. Cuomo (2009)

  • AT ISSUE: Does a state ban on certain types of weapons violate the Second Amendment?
  • HOW SHE RULED: She rejected a lawsuit from a man who wanted to possess a martial arts weapon called a nunchuka, made of two sticks joined by chain or rope. Sotomayor said the Second Amendment "right of the people to keep and bear arms" applied only to the federal government, and had not yet been applied to states.
  • QUOTE FROM HER RULING: "The Second Amendment applies only to limitations the federal government seeks to impose on this right."
  • IMPACT: In a separate 2004 ruling (U.S. v. Sanchez Villar) that rejected a challenge to New York state's pistol licensing law, Sotomayor and her fellow judges concluded in a footnote, "the right to possess a gun is clearly not a fundamental right."

7. FREE SPEECH – Pappas v. Giuliani (2002)

  • AT ISSUE: Was it proper to fire a government worker for engaging in allegedly racist acts on the job, but unrelated to his job? NYPD desk employee was sent packing for mailing back solicitations for charitable contributions with racist and bigoted materials.
  • HOW SHE RULED: The appeals court concluded the city had the right to terminate the man without violating his free speech rights. But Sotomayor dissented, saying the employee's speech was anonymous, and that he was neither a policymaker nor worked a beat.
  • QUOTE FROM HER DISSENT: While the speech was "patently offensive, hateful, and insulting," she cautioned the majority against "gloss[ing] over three decades of jurisprudence and the centrality of First Amendment freedoms in our lives just because it is confronted with speech is does not like." The NYPD's race relations concerns "are so removed from the effective functioning of the public employer that they cannot prevail over the free speech rights of the public employee."
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Filed under: 360° Radar • Justice Department • Sonia Sotomayor • Supreme Court
soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. RLWellman

    If she gets into the supreme court there will be reverse discrimination rulings every day.

    What she has done in the past, is what she will do in the future!

    To those of you that think justice is blind, but only in a perfect world, there is no perfect world. However, there are laws wrote to protect the citizen and she certainly discriminates against any white person over a minority, everytime!

    July 12, 2009 at 7:12 pm |
  2. ronvan

    Nothing more than politics as usual. For me, this shows our young, future leaders, that you cannot suceed unless you keep your mouth shut & agree with those already in power. How many of us interpret everything we see & read and come up with different opinions based on our life experience's.

    July 12, 2009 at 8:19 am |
  3. Ben Yates

    I agree with her rulings as they followed Constitutional Law

    July 11, 2009 at 12:23 am |