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Sonia Sotomayor: Supreme Court Politicized by Others

By    |   Thursday, 09 April 2015 08:12 PM

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor says any sense that the court is political comes from outside groups, not the justices themselves.

Sotomayor tells a New York audience that politicians on both sides have seized on the different approaches the justices use for interpreting laws and the Constitution.

She says Republicans tend to embrace Justice Antonin Scalia's method of looking strictly at the text, while Democrats prefer to talk about "the living Constitution" as a document that can adapt to changing times.

She says both are valid ways of interpreting the law that justices use to avoid making arbitrary decisions, but "the world around us has politicized what we've done."

Sotomayor's remarks came in response to a question during an appearance at the New York Public Library.

Sotomayor is not the first member of the court to spotlight the frustrating issue.

In a public appearance at the University of Nebraska College of Law in September, Chief Justice John Roberts placed the blame squarely on Congress.

Roberts said politics is most visible during the confirmation process, the Lincoln Journal Star reported at the time.

"We are not Republicans or Democrats," Roberts said. "I'm worried about people having that perception," he said, but added, "it is not an accurate one."

Though justices once usually received near unanimous confirmation, more recent votes fall more along partisan lines, Roberts said.

There were a couple of tight votes in the James Buchanan administration. But a large number of early confirmations were by voice vote, the last one in 1965.

Sotomayor was confirmed by a 68-31 Senate vote in 2009. Justice Elena Kagan made it by 63-37. But conservative Justice Antonin Scalia was confirmed unanimously in 1986 and liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was confirmed 96-3 in 1993.

"Neither would have a chance [of that] today," Roberts said.

Of current justices, the closest vote was that of Clarence Thomas, who squeaked in on a 52-48 vote.

"We are not part of the political process," Roberts told the Nebraska audience. "We don't make decisions on political grounds."

Roberts can certainly attest to that argument, having stunned conservatives in 2012 when he sided with the 5-4 majority not to overturn the Affordable Care Act provision that individuals must purchase health insurance.

Howard R. Gold commented on his Independent Agenda website as the court was hearing arguments on the Obamacare case that everyone from President Barack Obama to Roberts himself were partly to blame for the politicization of the court.

Gold scolded Obama's lawyers for arguing that the high court was taking "an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress." Overturning unconstitutional laws are actually the job of the court, Gold said.

But Gold also criticized the chief justice for inserting politics by taking up the case during a presidential election year rather than waiting until 2013.

Not to be left out: the media.

Gold chastised New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd for her April 3, 2012, column  in which she said the court "has squandered even the semi-illusion that it is the unbiased, honest guardian of the Constitution. It is run by hacks dressed up in black robes.

"All the fancy diplomas of the conservative majority cannot disguise the fact that its reasoning on the most important decisions affecting Americans seems shaped more by a political handbook than a legal brief," Dowd said.

This report contains material from The Associated Press.

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Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor says any sense that the court is political comes from outside groups, not the justices themselves.
Sonia Sotomayor, Supreme Court, politicized, outside, groups, confirmations, Howard Gold
Thursday, 09 April 2015 08:12 PM
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