07.07.09

Sotomayor “Consensus Judge” On Criminal Justice Issues

Judiciary Committee Chairman Joins Law Enforcement Advocates On Capitol Hill

WASHINGTON – Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) on Tuesday released the results of a comprehensive study of Supreme Court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s appellate decisions in criminal justice cases.  At a press conference on Capitol Hill with leaders of the nation’s premier law enforcement organizations, Leahy called Sotomayor both a consensus and moderate judge.

“Based on a review of more than 800 criminal cases, it can be said with confidence that Judge Sotomayor is unquestionably a consensus judge on criminal justice issues,” Leahy said.  “In fact, Judge Sotomayor’s criminal justice record proves that she is a moderate judge, whose decisions in criminal cases rarely differ from those of her colleagues on the Federal bench.”

Leahy continued, “As a prosecutor, Sonia Sotomayor gained practical experience about the real-world challenges and dangers that police officers face every day, and about the pain and frustration and sense of violation that crime victims experience.  She worked with police officers as a prosecutor, and she worked side by side with crime victims in the quest for justice for these ordinary Americans.   It is no surprise to me that Judge Sotomayor has a strong record of being fair to the police in criminal cases.”

The majority staff of the Senate Judiciary Committee completed the comprehensive study of Sotomayor’s record in criminal justice issues, including cases involving violent crime, illegal firearms, drugs, immigration crime, and economic crime.  The study concluded that Sotomayor “affirmed convictions 92 percent of the time and reversed convictions only two percent of the time.”  The study also concluded that in the more than 400 criminal cases in which Sotomayor sat on panels with Republican-appointed judges, she agreed with all the Republican-appointed judges on the panel in 97 percent of the cases.  A copy of the study is available online.

Broad Support From Leading Law Enforcement Organizations

Joining Leahy on Capitol Hill Tuesday morning in support of the Sotomayor nomination were representatives from the nation’s leading law enforcement organizations, including the Fraternal Order of Police, the National Association of Police Organizations, the National Sheriffs Association, the National District Attorneys Association, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, the National Latino Peace Officers Association, the Major Cities Chiefs, and the Police Executive Research Forum.  The law enforcement groups were among the earliest supporters of Sotomayor’s nomination.

“[Judge Sotomayor] is a model jurist – tough, fair-minded, and mindful of the constitutionally protections afforded to all U.S. citizens,” wrote Chuck Canterbury, the national president of the National Fraternal Order of Police, on June 9.

“Throughout her distinguished career spanning three decades, Judge Sotomayor has worked at almost every level of our judicial system, giving her a depth of experience and knowledge that will be valuable on our nation’s highest court,” wrote Thomas Nee, the president of the National Association of Police Organizations on June 5.

“Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s real world experience as a prosecutor who pursued justice for victims of violent crimes as well as a federal judge at both the district and circuit court levels with an unassailable integrity make her an ideal nominee to serve on the Supreme Court,” wrote National Sheriffs’ Association President Sheriff David A. Goad and Executive Director Aaron D. Kennard on June 8.

“Judge Sotomayor’s depth of experience with all aspects of the law – as a prosecutor, a private litigator, a District Court Judge and as a Federal Judge – has made her into an exemplary judge and an outstanding nominee to serve on our nation’s highest court,” wrote Joseph Cassilly, president of the National District Attorneys Association, on June 8.

“The critical issues involving the dialectical contradictions of inequities and fairness across the spectrum of employment, education, housing, the status of juvenile offenders and the enforcement of law are of deep concern to us and are issues that we believe [Judge Sotomayor] will be sensitive to,” wrote Joseph A. McMillian, national president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives on June 8.

“Judge Sotomayor possesses the requisite intellect, experience and character that an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court should embody.   I am confident that she will be loyal to the rule of law, and not the self righteous bullying of special interest groups,” said Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association President Jon Adler on Tuesday.

“The [National Latino Peace Officers Association] supports Judge Sonia Sotomayor because she has a long and distinguished career on the federal bench as well as having the depth and breadth of legal experience of all levels of the judicial system,” wrote Chief Art Acevedo, the national president of the National Latino Peace Officers Association on May 26.

“[Judge Sotomayor’s] record as a prosecutor and a judge both show a commitment to public safety and sensitivity to the needs of the community,” wrote Major Cities Chiefs Association President William J. Bratton on June 7.

“Sonia Sotomayor went out of her way to stand shoulder to shoulder with those of us in public safety at a time when New York City needed strong, tough, and fair prosecutors.  I am confident that she will continue to bring honor to herself, and now to the Supreme Court, when she is confirmed for this critically important position,” wrote John F. Timoney, president of the Police Executive Research Forum, on June 8.

Studies And Evaluations Show Sotomayor To Be Mainstream Judge

The criminal justice study by the majority staff of the Senate Judiciary Committee is the latest evaluation to prove Sotomayor’s mainstream judicial record.  Tuesday morning, a panel of the American Bar Association, announced that it had found Sotomayor to be unanimously well qualified, the highest rating the ABA gives to judicial nominees.

On June 30, the New York City Bar Association released an evaluation of Sotomayor, finding her highly qualified to be an Association Justice of the Supreme Court.

“The Executive Committee concluded that Judge Sotomayor is extremely well-credentialed to serve on our highest court; that she possesses a formidable intellect and a mature legal mind open to the arguments of others; that she is careful about deciding each case based on the precise facts and legal issues before her; that she understands the human dimensions to her cases, but is also faithful in following the law as it exists; and that she has a healthy respect for the limited role of judges and the balance of powers with the executive and legislative branches.  Based on the entirety of its work, the Executive Committee finds Judge Sotomayor Highly Qualified to be an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court.”

The Congressional Research Service (CRS), a research and reference service for Congress, released a report indicating that Sotomayor’s tenure on the federal bench has been marked by an adherence to precedent. 

“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),” a July 1 CRS report states.  “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.”

An independent study of Sotomayor’s race-related cases by Supreme Court advocate and Washington, D.C. attorney Tom Goldstein concluded that Sotomayor adheres to the rule of law in evaluating race-related cases.

“In sum, in an eleven-year career on the Second Circuit, Judge Sotomayor has participated in roughly 100 panel decisions involving questions of race and has disagreed with her colleagues in those cases (a fair measure of whether she’s an outlier) a total of 4 times,” Goldstein wrote.  “Given that record, it seems absurd to say that Judge Sotomayor allows race to infect her decision-making.”

Another independent study, by Stefanie Lindquist of the University of Texas School of Law, reported in The National Law Journal, found that Sotomayor’s record does “not paint a portrait of an activist judge.”  Lindquist is quoted in a June 8 article by Marcia Coyle as stating that Sotomayor’s “reversal record does not necessarily reflect any particular activism even if one considers reversals more activist than affirmances.”

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Comments Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),
Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee,
On The Nomination Of Judge Sonia Sotomayor To Be An Associate Justice Of The United States Supreme Court
Press Conference
July 7, 2009
As Prepared

Today, I am pleased to stand with this impressive group of leaders and advocates representing law enforcement agencies and organizations from across the country in support of President Obama’s historic nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court.

As many of the law enforcement leaders behind me can attest, Judge Sotomayor’s criminal justice record on and off the bench is exemplary.  From her years as a prosecutor in New York City’s District Attorney’s office, to her years as a trial judge on the federal bench, to her more than 10 years on the appellate court, Judge Sotomayor has an extraordinary record of following, defending, and upholding the rule of law.

Today, I am releasing the results of a comprehensive study conducted by the Majority staff of the Senate Judiciary Committee that speaks to Judge Sotomayor’s record of being tough on crime.  Based on a review of more than 800 criminal cases, it can be said with confidence that Judge Sotomayor is unquestionably a consensus judge on criminal justice issues.  In fact, Judge Sotomayor’s criminal justice record proves that she is a moderate judge, whose decisions in criminal cases rarely differ from those of her colleagues on the Federal bench.  In the more than 400 criminal cases she decided with Republican-appointed judges, those Republican-appointed judges considering the same arguments and evidence on the same panel as Judge Sotomayor agreed with her more than 97 percent of the time.

As the Majority Committee staff study reveals, on the appellate court, Judge Sotomayor affirmed criminal convictions 92 percent of the time, and reversed convictions only two percent of the time.  Judge Sotomayor was particularly consistent in upholding convictions involving the most serious offenses.  In violent crime cases, she affirmed convictions 98 percent of the time, including significant terrorism and organized crime cases. 

As a prosecutor, Sonia Sotomayor gained practical experience about the real-world challenges and dangers that police officers face every day, and about the pain and frustration and sense of violation that crime victims experience.  She worked with police officers as a prosecutor, and she worked side by side with crime victims in the quest for justice for these ordinary Americans.   It is no surprise to me that Judge Sotomayor has a strong record of being fair to the police in criminal cases.   She upheld police searches 90 percent of the time and found for the government when it appealed lower court rulings in criminal cases 92 percent of the time.  In these cases, Judge Sotomayor was fair and consistent in applying the law, even disagreeing with Republican-appointed colleagues who wanted to overturn a conviction that she would have affirmed.

When the country hears from Judge Sotomayor next week at her confirmation hearing, I have no doubt it will agree with the Fraternal Order of Police, the National Association of Police Organizations, the National Sheriffs Association, the National District Attorneys Association, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, the National Latino Peace Officers Association, the Major Cities Chiefs Association, and the Police Executive Research Forum – all represented here today – that she is an impressive, qualified nominee to serve on the nation’s highest court. 

Just this morning, the American Bar Association’s announcement of its unanimous, well-qualified rating of Judge Sotomayor has provided further evidence of the outstanding experience she will bring to the Supreme Court.  The confidential, peer-review evaluations of her professional qualifications -- integrity, professional competence, and judicial temperament – have resulted in the ABA’s highest rating for Judge Sotomayor. 

Now, I’d like to give these national law enforcement leaders an opportunity to say a few words about Judge Sotomayor. 

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Press Contact

David Carle: 202-224-3693