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Sonia Sotomayor: Background, Rulings, Ethnicity

Cesar Perales
President and General Counsel, LatinoJustice PRLDEF
Wednesday, May 27, 2009 1:00 PM

Cesar Perales, president and general counsel of LatinoJustice PRLDEF, was online Wednesday, May 27, at 1 p.m. ET to discuss the selection of Sonia Sotomayor by President Obama to be the next Supreme Court justice, including her professional background, how she has ruled on controversial issues, her ethnicity, how she is perceived by her peers and how Republicans and Demcocrats weigh in on her selection.

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Cesar Perales: Hi. Cesar Perales here. I'm looking forward to your questions about Sonia Sotomayor.

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Annandale, Va.: I don't think it is a problem at all for justices to use their life experiences to make judgments. Everybody does this.

I'm a WASP and the decisions I make are based upon my experiences. If the justices didn't all do this we could just have computers replace judges.

Cesar Perales: You're absolutely right. We all see the world through a unique lens. A lens developed through all of the experiences we've had in our life.

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Regarding Sotomayers's age and health...: From the comments from columnists, and panelists on TV the party of the president who appointed a SCOTUS justice expect them to do their best to hold out until another president from their party was in power, so their party can appoint a replacement of their party's current ideological bent.

Maybe I took those comments too seriously, as I thought President Obama would appoint someone younger, someone who would fulfill the Republican fear that they would remain on duty for decades. If she was diagnosed with diabetes at 7 that has serious implications for her long term life expectancy. How is her health today?

Cesar Perales: From everything I've read she is managing her diabetes and it has not affected her ability to work. I am also told that if diabetes is well-controlled one can live a long and productive life.

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D.C.: Two questions: First, what is her position on tribal sovereignty? I know there's not a lot to go on in the Second Circuit, but it's important to us Native American attorneys as there are currently no Native American federal judges.

Second, will she be the first to hire the FIRST Native American clerk? It's been over 200 years and we're still waiting for a CLERK!

Cesar Perales: I have no idea what her position is on tribal sovereignty. And I suspect she would answer by saying that since this is an issue that will come before her she is not now going to make an prejudgment. I think this is important because the court will have specific set of facts upon which to rule and she ought not to be guessing as to how she might interpret the law.

Again, I have no idea whom she will hire.

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Manhattan, Kansas: Just a comment: I've noticed that a preponderance of voices coming from conservative media is claiming that Sonia Sotomayor's impressive list of achievements is the result of her being the beneficiary of affirmative action programs. This smells of the rankest kind of bigotry, in which any noteworthy accomplishment by a woman or by a member of a minority is automatically dismissed.

Cesar Perales: You don't graduate at the top of your class from Princeton through affirmative action and go on to become an editor of the Yale Law Journal.

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Briarcliff Manor, N.Y.: Being a Latina woman, part of the fastest growing group in the U.S., what additional factors can she bring to the Supreme Court? How will the U.S. benefit from that perspective?

Cesar Perales: I think she brings a new perspective to the issues of the day. That doesn't mean that she will not interpret the constitution or the laws of our country any differently than other lawyers. It does mean that there will be a different voice at the table when the justices sit to discuss the issues before the court.

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Fairfax, Va.: How would you classify her rulings in the past? Have they been based upon facts vs. emotion or what?

Cesar Perales: She is a respected jurist on the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit which hears some of the most important cases in the country. I'm pretty sure she is not making decisions based on her emotions.

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Briarcliff Manor, N.Y.: Can you discuss the controversy over the reverse discrimination decision?

Cesar Perales: The city of New Haven refused to accept the results of a promotional exam that they felt had discriminated against blacks and latinos. One of the obvious concerns was that there have been instances in which the courts have struck down tests that discriminate against racial minorities. The circuit court on which Sotomayor sits agreed that based on precedent the city had the right to not implement the results of a suspect exam. She was part of the majority in that decision.

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Washington, D.C.: Cesar -- Where was the concern for "alienating Latino voters" when the Democrats blocked the nomination of Miguel Estrada to the federal bench?

Cesar Perales: The appointment of Sonia Sotomayor has nothing to do with a concern for "alienating Latino voters." I believe she is the best candidate for the job.

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Washington, D.C.: In my opinion, the non-substantive dismissal of the white New Haven firefighters' case is probably going to be the biggest problem for Sotomayor, because not reaching the merits of the discrimination claims implies that reverse discrimination is not important. What are your views on this? Thanks.

Cesar Perales: I think an examination of her entire record clearly shows that she is as concerned for the constitutional rights of everyone. I know of at least one case in which she upheld the right of a white civil servant to make racist comments based on her strong concern for the First Amendment. I keep saying to people that Sonia Sotomayor sided with the majority on the firefighters case and I fully expect that the Supreme Court will be equally divided when they issue their decision. This is a very complex set of facts.

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Washington, D.C.: What is her position on abortion? Will she uphold Roe v. Wade? And what do you suspect is her position on same-sex marriage?

Cesar Perales: As regards her position on abortion, I can only tell you that I know that throughout her career as a jurist she has adhered to precedent.

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Minneapolis, Minn.: Ideologically speaking, where on the spectrum is the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund? Relative to the above fund, is Judge Sotomayor more liberal, more conservative, or pretty much in line? Will that be a net positive or negative for Latinos concerned about immigration and labor laws?

Cesar Perales: LatinoJustice PRLDEF (formerly the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund) is committed to the rule of law. We believe that we should protect the rights of Latinos wherever they are being violated.

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Alexandria, Va.: When will the confirmation process begin? How do you think it will go? How do you think that Republicans will try to oppose her nomination?

Cesar Perales: The president has said that he wants to process to be completed by the end of the summer. I am optimistic that Judge Sotomayor will be confirmed.

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washingtonpost.com: Sonia Sotomayor is a former member of PRLDEF.

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Washington, D.C.: Cesar Perales: I think an examination of her entire record clearly shows that she is as concerned for the constitutional rights of everyone.

Well, another Hispanic judge, Jose Cabranes, in his later signed dissenting opinion in this case, seemed to think otherwise, and he particularly was concerned that the Sotomayor decision contained "no reference whatsoever to the constitutional claims at the core of this case." I don't see how you can reconcile that with a concern for the constitutional rights of everyone.

Cesar Perales: Again, it was not just Judge Sotomayor who upheld the right of the city fathers of New Haven to not implement the results of the suspect test. Reasonable judges can and do disagree. And as I indicated earlier I fully expect that the Supreme Court itself will be divided on this issue. It is inappropriate to suggest that either position -- upholding the exam or requiring a new one -- is somehow motivated by racial animus.

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Washington, D.C.: "The city of New Haven refused to accept the results of a promotional exam that they felt had discriminated against blacks and latinos."

Not true sir...please tell the facts. They only threw out the test after not enough minorities passed it. They didn't say it was discriminatory until the results came back.

Big difference...either we are all equal or we are not. Same standards for everyone...especially fire fighters!

Cesar Perales: Please read my answer. I indicated that the city of New Haven refused to accept the RESULTS of the promotional exam. That indicates that it was after the exam.

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Re: Avoiding a filibuster: How likely do you think it is that moderate female Republican Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins (both of Maine) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (of heavily Hispanic Texas) would vote against their party if its leaders attempted to filibuster Judge Sotomayor's appointment? What about moderate senators from heavily Hispanic states (besides Hutchison, John McCain), who need Hispanic votes to stay in elective politics?

Cesar Perales: I would hope that a large majority of the Senators will vote to confirm Judge Sonia Sotomayor based on her extraordinary qualifications.

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Alexandria, Va.: What does her being a Hispanic or a woman have to do with her qualifications of being on the court? I believe that her experience and knowledge make her a good candidate, I just don't see where the Hispanic and woman come into play for her qualifications.

Cesar Perales: "What does her being a Hispanic or a woman have to do with her qualifications of being on the court?" Nothing. This is not a qualification. It is just who she is.

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Castor, La.: What is Sotomayor's stance on the gun laws?

Cesar Perales: I don't know.

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Miami, Fla.: Hi Cesar, in your opinion, if Judge Sotomayor was on the Supreme Court during Bush v. Gore, who would she have sided with?

Cesar Perales: Again, I don't know.

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New York, N.Y.: What did Marie Sontomayor do as a member of PRLDEF? Was she active or is this more a group where members primarily pay dues and read the organizational materials?

Cesar Perales: SONIA Sotomayor was a member of our Board of Directors and in that capacity oversaw the work of the organization. During that time our organization thrived. This is not an organization that collects dues.

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Castor, La.: Do you think that maybe she should voice her opinion on this issue? Some of these issues have been put forth to the courts before. Many gun owners would like to know what her stance is.

Cesar Perales: I don't know of any decisions that she has made regarding gun control.

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Bethesda, Md.: Is Judge Sotomayor a church-going Roman Catholic? Other religion? Thanks.

Cesar Perales: I know that she attended Catholic schools in the Bronx, but I have never discussed her religious beliefs with her.

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Culebra Puerto Rico: Why do the press refer to her parents as immigrants? If they were born in PR they are citizens of the U.S., not subject to any U.S. Immigration laws, guidelines or quotas. Thank you

Cesar Perales: You are right to correct the many misinformed members of the media.

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Cesar Perales: Thank you all very much for joining me in the discussion regarding the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court.

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