Sen. Carl Levin: New justice will leave bias out of her rulings

Published 4:02 pm Friday, August 7, 2009

The Senate has once again fulfilled its Constitutional duty and considered a nomination to the United States Supreme Court, confirming the newest member, Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

The Constitution provides that the president nominates, and the Senate confirms, Supreme Court justices. But it offers no guide; each senator must determine what qualities he or she thinks a Supreme Court Justice should have, and how to determine whether a nominee has those qualities.

Justice Sotomayor is the 12th Supreme Court nominee on whom I have voted. Each time, I have reviewed the nominee’s qualifications, temperament and background to determine if the nominee is likely to bring to the court an ideology that distorts his or her legal judgment or brings into question his or her open-mindedness. I believe Justice Sotomayor satisfies the essential requirements of open-mindedness and judicial temperament and that her decisions as a judge fall well within the mainstream of our jurisprudence.
Her background is well known and impressive: valedictorian of her New York City high school; summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Princeton University; editor of the Yale Law Journal. In her 30-year legal career, she has been a federal trial court and appeals court judge, a commercial litigator in private practice, and a state prosecutor.
Her judicial career has received bipartisan support: She was nominated as a district court judge by President George H.W. Bush and to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit by President Bill Clinton. The Senate confirmed that nomination by a more than two-to-one margin.

On May 26, President Obama nominated Judge Sotomayor to the Supreme Court to fill the seat left vacant by the departure of Justice David Souter. The American Bar Association Standing Committee evaluated her nomination, interviewing more than 500 judges, lawyers, law professors and community representatives from across the United States and analyzing her opinions, speeches and other writings. After that investigation, the American Bar Association gave her its highest rating, unanimously finding her “well qualified.”

Some of my colleagues expressed concern over the differences in language and ideas that they have observed in Judge Sotomayor as a judge in the courtroom and as a citizen out of the courtroom. For example, during her confirmation hearing, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas said, “You know, I actually agree that your judicial record strikes me as pretty much in the mainstream. … You appear to be a different person almost in your speeches and in some of the comments that you’ve made. So I guess part of what we need to do is to try to reconcile those.”

Assume there is a difference between her views in the courtroom and those personal views she has expressed outside of the courtroom in speeches.

If so, aren’t we looking for someone who can apply the law on the bench, even if he or she has a different personal opinion?  At the end of the day, we want our judges to leave their personal bias outside the courtroom. That is the essence of an impartial judiciary.
Justice Sotomayor has demonstrated precisely the trait that she is accused of lacking: the ability to leave her personal opinions at the courthouse door. That is the opposite of an activist jurist imposing her views despite the law.

We all have personal views and sympathies. Some judges, regrettably, can’t lay those aside. Judge Sotomayor has proven over her judicial career that she can, while faithfully upholding the principles of the United States Constitution. For those reasons, I was pleased to vote to confirm her nomination to our nation’s highest court.

Carl Levin is the senior U.S. senator from Michigan.