In May 2009, Supreme Court Justice David Souter announced his intention to retire from the Supreme Court. Several weeks later, President Obama nominated Judge Sonia Sotomayor, who currently serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, to fill his seat. To fulfill its constitutional “advice and consent” function, the Senate will consider Judge Sotomayor’s extensive record — compiled from years as a lawyer, prosecutor, district court judge, and appellate court judge — to better understand her legal approaches and judicial philosophy.
This report provides an analysis of selected opinions authored by Judge Sotomayor during her tenure as a judge on the Second Circuit. As a group, the opinions belie easy categorization along any ideological spectrum. However, it is possible to draw some conclusions regarding Judge Sotomayor’s judicial approach, both within some specific issue areas and in general.
Perhaps the most consistent characteristic of Judge Sotomayor’s approach as an appellate judge has been an adherence to the doctrine of stare decisis (i.e., the upholding of past judicial precedents). Other characteristics appear to include what many would describe as a careful application of particular facts at issue in a case and a dislike for situations in which the court might be seen as overstepping its judicial role.
It is difficult to determine the extent to which Judge Sotomayor’s style as a judge on the Second Circuit would predict her style should she become a Supreme Court justice. However, as has been the case historically with other nominees, some of her approaches may be enduring characteristics.
Discussions of the selected opinions are grouped according to various topics of legal significance. Throughout the report, hyperlinks are provided to opinions authored by Judge Sotomayor.