The non-partisan Congressional Research Service has produced a report on the opinions of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, drawing conclusions that lend support to her advocates' assertions that she is far from an extreme liberal.
"As a group, the opinions belie easy categorization along any ideological spectrum," states the report, which became available online yesterday. "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. 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 oversteping its judicial role."
In her respect for precedent, the report adds, Sotomayor's approach "would be in line with the judicial philosophy of Justice [David]Souter," the justice she is in line to replace. The report also says a common characteristic of her opinions on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit is "a meticulous evaluation of the particular facts at issue in a case, which may inform whether past judicial precedents from the circuit are applicable. Her approach to statutory interpretation seems similarly nuanced." In a story this week we also looked at her meticulous opinion-writing style.
In terms of outcomes, one of the few patterns the report discerned is in cases involving individuals with disabilities. There, the CRS states, her opinions "could be seen as appearing to favor plaintiffs' claims."
But in other areas, partly because of the range of cases that reach her court (few if any death penalty cases, for example,) few conclusions can be reached, according to the report. There is "little guidance" from her writings on how she would handle issues of executive power in national security matters, the report states.
The 55-page report stands as a useful survey of Sotomayor's opinions that will likely be discussed at her confirmation hearing starting July 13. And it is already drawing criticism. At National Review Online, commentator and Sotomayor critic Ed Whelan wonders in a headline whether the report signals the "political corruption" of the Congressional Research Service.
UPDATE: In Whelan's posting about the CRS report, he asked whether it was unusual for the service to analyze the work of a Supreme Court nominee. Spokeswoman Janine D'Addario said this morning that CRS "has a long history of supporting the Senate's advice and consent role" in judicial nominations with such research. CRS reports on Samuel Alito Jr. and others can be found online. Adhering to CRS policy, D'Addario added that "it's not appropriate" for her to specify whether the report on Sotomayor was prepared at the request of a member of Congress, or in anticipation of such a request. CRS reports originate in both ways.