May 28th, 2009
06:24 PM ET

Sotomayor – too much empathy?

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Bill Mears
CNN Supreme Court Senior Producer

Quite a bit of talk today about ‘”empathy” and whether that is a desirable quality in a judge/justice. Is there a pattern in Sotomayor’s rulings that would signal such sympathies? Here are samples from my research…

Cases where "empathy" or lack of it could be cited by opponents:

2000 – Ruled partly in favor of Yvette Cruz, Hispanic woman who alleged a co-worker at Coach Stores made lewd remarks and subjected her to sexual harassment. Upheld the harassment claims, but Sotomayor rejected the woman's claims she was fired because of her ethnicity.

2001 – She sided with a federal prisoner who 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. The man was in a halfway house for securities fraud. Sotomayor concluded, under her reading of a 1971 Scotus precedent, contractors could be sued the same as federal employees. Scotus later reversed.

2005 – Judge allowed a class action suit by Merrill Lynch shareholders who alleged fraud by company officials. Scotus in 2006 unanimously overturned, concluding federal law gave enforcement power to SEC, leaving no venue for lawsuits under state fraud laws.

On the other hand:

In King v. American Airlines in 2002, she ruled against a black couple who claimed they were kicked off their flight because of their race. Sotomayor said the case was pre-empted by international law governing air travel.

Ruled against Wendy Norville a black nurse in 1999 who claimed workplace discrimination after being fired. The worker said her age, race and a debilitating injury were the result. Sotomayor threw out the race and age claims, but allowed the claim on disability to proceed to trial.

In 2006 she ruled against investors who claimed Wall Street Banks were price-fixing IPOs. She agreed with the majority the class-action could not proceed, nullifying earlier settlements that would have benefited investors to the tune of $1 billion.

Bottom line: I found no obvious pattern in her rulings suggesting that she is consistently or overly sympathetic to “the little” guy, or any particular gender, race, ethnicity, etc. Her off-the-bench speeches/remarks reveal personal thoughts that some might find objectionable, but her rulings do not reveal an overt bias.

Filed under: 360° Radar • Sonia Sotomayor • Supreme Court
soundoff (17 Responses)
  1. Larry, Ohio

    I don't suppose conservatives mind too terribly much a supreme court justice who may feel a great deal of empathy towards an unborn child when considering abortion issues. Empathy is the human element in judicial deliverance and I would hope that all supreme court justices learn to apply empathy fairly in all the cases they hear.

    May 29, 2009 at 8:38 am |
  2. Suzanne Willis

    I am thriled with President Obama" pick - she will do a good job -

    May 29, 2009 at 7:39 am |
  3. Natural is best

    Empathy?? How about Bias? Justice is supposed to blind, decisions are to be made by the law, not personal feeling.

    May 28, 2009 at 9:14 pm |
  4. Melissa

    As an attorney, I am concerned about Sotomayor's rulings, some of which seem to be politically motivated with the rationale distracting from her her results based conclusions. All judges bring their human experiences to the bench but to claim that her own circumstances make her more qualified than others' backgrounds indicates a serious flaw in her judicial abilities to interpret the laws as they apply to the facts of each case. While we need all races and genders on Scotus, their job is not to fight for their agendas and ethnicity. Their job is to apply the law to the facts of each case, interpret the law as it applies to these facts & determine the constitutionality of the law. Race, ethnicity, gender are irrelevant! The fact that she thinks otherwise not only concerns me but should also concern others. Do not confirm Sotomayor!

    May 28, 2009 at 9:10 pm |
  5. Annie Kate

    This judge seems to be well qualified for the Supreme Court and her rulings seem to be based on the law, the Constitution, and precedent and not on her personal feelings, which is as it should be. I don't see why people who have voted for her before for other appointments to the Court are against her now – are they saying that their votes for her before were wrong?? Seems if she was qualified for those spots she would be qualified for this one – after all an elected official should not knowingly vote for confirmation of a judge who does not follow the rule of law. The only conclusion I can see on this is that this is just one more place to have a tantrum over because they didn't win the November election.

    May 28, 2009 at 9:02 pm |
  6. Marian

    Only to the far right would "empathy" become a bad word.

    May 28, 2009 at 8:38 pm |
  7. lam0nt Austin

    Tim Gibson i feel sorry for you, the only back stepping that has happened has because of republican influence and there will to just say no to anything democratic (sounds commy to me) and he's done more for the country any other pres. beside Clinton and we just past his first 100 days in office. For there not to be a hispanic (puerto ricano) descent on the justice and only three women before this time
    you people must be crazy to criticise this very accomplished and dynamic woman with a experience no one on that justice has ever had.
    That s whats really wromng with this world.

    May 28, 2009 at 8:25 pm |
  8. Mike, Syracuse, NY

    @Petra, let's see the list. I'm sick of hearing Obama has done more in X days than Bush in 8 years. Prove it. Show me the list of accomplishments. You can't count mere reversals of Bush executive orders. All I've seen him do is go an a great Apology Tour and spend, spend, spend money we don't have.

    May 28, 2009 at 8:11 pm |
  9. Linda B., Ga.

    All of her critics need to GET A LIFE and GET ON WITH IT......give her the job!

    May 28, 2009 at 7:37 pm |
  10. Isabel, Brazil

    In an article, "The New York Times" defined the Judge Sonia Sotomayor as a person of strong opinions, not intimidated in the tribune, or before the press.

    May 28, 2009 at 7:30 pm |
  11. Petra Linden

    Tim Gibson , You need to read more ! Obama done more in his first 100 days then George W in 8 Years !
    Obama is a true Leader ! He might be just to intelligent for ya' ! He ha !
    Joel , you are right we need somebody to fight for Minority !

    May 28, 2009 at 7:25 pm |
  12. Beth

    Tim Giibson – I don't understand your entry. I mean that literally. Can you please explain what you mean in the first sentence. I don't understand what makes her a trophy . And it is his job to select individuals for positions so I don't get it.

    May 28, 2009 at 7:17 pm |
  13. tmgesq

    She is highly qualified. Period. Every judge brings his or her personal experience and background to the bench. Her credentials are impeccable, and she will add to the mix of justices currently on the S. Ct. Bench!

    May 28, 2009 at 7:13 pm |
  14. Jen Cunningham

    I don't care about her sympathies or personal bias, as long as she is fair, honest and just. We need people of all backgrounds and races to represent our diverse country. She meets those requirements and doesn't seem to be afraid of voicing her opinions or beliefs. She would fit in with the other Justices.

    May 28, 2009 at 7:07 pm |
  15. Scott Stodden

    I dont think she rules on cases based on empathy, I believe as a judge that Sonia Sotomayor judges each case based on what she believes is the right ruling. Im so tired of Republicans changing her words and making this amazing Latina woman look like she's so inexperience or doesnt know what she's talking about. Sonia Sotomayor's record speaks for itself and also she was confirmed twice by the U.S. Senate, the Republicans would be stupid to block her nomination because I guarantee the Republicans that all Latina's would turn against the Republicans.

    Scott Stodden
    (Freeport, IL)

    May 28, 2009 at 7:01 pm |
  16. Joel Payne

    Too much empathy ? No its time for a Supreme Court Justice for the minority..Too long all of gov. have stood up for Corps. now is the time for Gov. Of the people for the people.

    May 28, 2009 at 6:56 pm |
  17. Tim Gibson

    Sotomayor is nothing more than another Obama trophy in his selection of individuals for positions, much like a deer head mounted on a hunters wall and nothing more.

    He back pedals, flip flops on campaign promises and his answer is yet another trophy to sway the public and attempt to keep votes in his court.

    With each day that Obama fails on his promises I loose faith in his leadership ability.

    May 28, 2009 at 6:31 pm |