With so many court and political observers expecting President Obama to name a woman or person of color or both to replace Justice David Souter, Second Circuit Appeals Judge Sonia Sotomayor seems to jump to the top of the list.
But who is she?
According to news reports, the 55 year old native of the Bronx, New York was raised by a single mom in the city’s housing projects. In 1976, she graduated summa cum laude from Princeton University and went on to become an editor at the Yale Law journal. The appellate judge of Puerto Rican descent apparently decided to pursue a legal career after watching episodes of Perry Mason as a girl. She served as an assistant district attorney for New York Country, which is basically Manhattan, from 1979 until 1984.
President Bush the elder appointed Sotomayor to the federal bench as a trial court judge at the urging of New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. President Bill Clinton elevated her to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals since 1998, and according to the New York Times, is best known “for issuing an injunction against major league baseball owners in April 1995, effectively ending a baseball strike of nearly eight months, the longest work stoppage in professional sports history, which had led to the cancellation of the World Series for the first time in 90 years.”
But she is lesser known for a more historic case. In 2004, for instance, she wrote a majority opinion revoking the citizenship of an 84 year old New York resident who misrepresented his involvement in the Germany army during WWII. Jack Reimer was an ethnic German born in Ukraine who became a U.S. naturalized citizen in 1959 who contended that he was forced to serve in the Germany army against his will. But a federal trail court judge found that Reimer was much more involving in persecuting Jews than he let on and revoked his U.S. citizenhip. When Reimer appealed the trial court’s decision, Sotomayor affirmed the lower court’s ruling. The case is called United States v. Reimer.
In her majority opinion, Sotomayer said, “We find it no less an act of assistance in persecution that [Reimer], whose presence just as much as that of the other armed guards forced the victim to remain in the pit waiting to be murdered, ultimately fired over the victim’s head.”
Here is how Hill.com summed up another case that involved the Klu Klux Klan.
In 2004, Sotomayor joined a ruling that upheld a law targeted at the Ku Klux Klan that would ban mask-wearing in public.
“The masks that the American Knights seek to wear in public demonstrations does not convey a message independently of the robe and hood,” the court decided. “That is, since the robe and hood alone clearly serve to identify the American Knights with the Klan, we conclude that the mask does not communicate any message that the robe and the hood do not. The expressive force of the mask is, therefore, redundant.”
Since she’s been on the bench she has demonstrated an independent streak in in casesm so saith the NYT, where she ruled against the White House, and cases involving the religious rights of prisoners and the Hell’s Angels while earning high praise from liberals.