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The Nominee's Jurisprudence

Sunday, June 7, 2009

CASE Hayden v. Pataki, 2006

ISSUE: Whether a New York law that bars felons from voting, combined with historic discrimination in the criminal justice system, violates the Voting Rights Act.

SOTOMAYOR POSITION: A lower court dismissed a lawsuit filed by black and Hispanic prisoners who wanted to vote from jail and felons on parole, a dismissal upheld by the full 2nd Circuit. Sotomayor dissented, saying the voting law covers felon disenfranchisement.

KEY SOTOMAYOR QUOTE: "It is plain to anyone reading the Voting Rights Act that it applies to all 'voting qualifications.' . . . Section 2 of the Act by its unambiguous terms subjects felony disenfranchisement and all other voting qualifications to its coverage."

CASEHankins v. Lyght, 2006

ISSUE: Whether a church's mandatory retirement policy violated anti-discrimination law.

SOTOMAYOR POSITION: A minister forced to retire at 70 sued his church for age discrimination. A federal judge dismissed the suit, but a 2nd Circuit panel reinstated it. Sotomayor dissented, arguing that the lawsuit should be thrown out and accusing her Republican colleagues of judicial activism.

KEY SOTOMAYOR QUOTE: "The majority's opinion thus violates a cardinal principle of judicial restraint."

CASE Pappas v. Giuliani, 2002

ISSUE: Whether a New York City police officer's firing violated his First Amendment free-speech rights.

SOTOMAYOR POSITION: The officer had mailed out fliers that ridiculed black and Jewish people. His lawsuit was dismissed by a lower court, a dismissal upheld by a 2nd Circuit panel, which ruled that the city could terminate him because he disseminated bigoted diatribes. Sotomayor dissented and said the officer's rights had been violated.

KEY SOTOMAYOR QUOTE: "I find the speech in this case patently offensive, hateful, and insulting. The Court should not, however, gloss over three decades of jurisprudence and the centrality of First Amendment freedoms in our lives because it is confronted with speech it does not like."

CASE Galarza v. Keane, 2001

ISSUE: Whether a prosecutor violated the constitutional rights of a Hispanic defendant, convicted on drug charges, by trying to exclude Hispanics from the jury.

SOTOMAYOR POSITION: Four lower-court judges -- two state and two federal -- rejected the prisoner's discrimination claims. Sotomayor voted to overturn and send the case back to a federal judge, writing for a 2nd Circuit panel that the trial court failed to fully explore the prosecutor's "race-neutral" explanations for striking the jurors. A Republican appointee dissented.

KEY SOTOMAYOR QUOTE: "Although the factual findings of state courts are generally presumed to be correct in habeas proceedings in federal court, this presumption is not applicable to the state court's determinations as to prospective jurors."

CASE Brown v. City of Oneonta, 2000

ISSUE: Whether police racially discriminated against minority residents of a small town who were questioned because an elderly woman said her attacker was black.

SOTOMAYOR POSITION: A 2nd Circuit panel rejected the discrimination lawsuit, and the full 2nd Circuit voted not to rehear the case. Sotomayor joined a dissent that said there is strong evidence the residents were victims of "racially linked sweeps."

KEY QUOTE From Judge Guido Calabresi's dissent that included Sotomayor: "The panel prematurely legitimates actions that -- even if they might ultimately be deemed valid -- are . . . extremely offensive to a much abused part of our population."

CASE Parker v. Columbia Pictures, 2000

ISSUE: Whether Sony Pictures Entertainment violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by firing an employee who hurt his back on the job.

SOTOMAYOR POSITION: A lower court threw out the discrimination claim. Sotomayor voted to overturn and send it back to the trial court, writing for a three-judge panel that the employee had a case under the ADA. A Republican appointee dissented.

KEY SOTOMAYOR QUOTE: "Parker has raised genuine factual questions as to both his ability to perform the essential functions of his job and SPE's motive for discharging him."

CASE Neilson v. Colgate-Palmolive, 1999

ISSUE: Whether Colgate-Palmolive Co. violated an employee's civil rights by firing her.

SOTOMAYOR POSITION: A lower court approved a settlement of the employee's racial- and sex-discrimination lawsuit. A psychiatrist had told the court the plaintiff was delusional, and her court-appointed guardian said she had no case under civil rights law. A 2nd Circuit panel agreed. Sotomayor dissented, saying that the judge violated the plaintiff's rights in the way he appointed her guardian and that the case should be further litigated.

KEY SOTOMAYOR QUOTE: "I believe a jury would have little difficulty finding that Neilson suffered a materially adverse change in the terms and conditions of her employment under circumstances giving rise to an inference of discrimination."

CASE Gant v. Wallingford Board of Education, 1999

ISSUE: Whether a school district acted with "deliberate indifference" to racial hostility encountered by a 6-year-old black child and transferred him to a lower grade for racial reasons.

SOTOMAYOR POSITION: A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit, and a 2nd Circuit panel agreed. Sotomayor dissented in part, saying the district had not been deliberately indifferent, but there was evidence race played a role in the transfer.

KEY SOTOMAYOR QUOTE: "I consider the treatment this lone black child encountered during his brief time in Cook Hill's first grade to have been . . . unprecedented and contrary to the school's established policies."

-- Jerry Markon

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