Ballot direction remains unclear

Sonia Sotomayor will cast critical votes on U.S. Supreme Court decisions, but no one should count on that ballot being liberal or conservative.
That is the assessment by Dr. Robert Spoo, University of Tulsa College of Law tenured associate professor.
Spoo, who served as one of Sotomayor’s clerks while she was a judge on the Second Court of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, said his former boss knows details about cases that she and her staff have thoroughly researched before opening arguments by attorneys begin.
Rather than being left or right on legal questions, Spoo feels that Sotomayor will bring a balanced opinion to the court, the same as she did when she was a federal judge and later an appellate judge — and she will make those decisions following the law regardless of outside pressure.
During the hearings, some had concerns about Sotomayor’s ‘‘aggressiveness and rudeness to lawyers,’’ Spoo said. She is no more aggressive than her male counterparts.
The reality is she is no more aggressive than her male counterparts and loves to get in front of the attorneys with specific questions. Lawyers, in preparing for oral arguments, want to give the testimony that already is presented in the documents and just rehash it for the court.
Justice Sotomayor wants to explore behind those documents and some lawyers don’t like some questions that are asked. But she wants to make them work for their money.
Clerks quickly learn that when reviewing a case she will argue about the facts and law that is involved. As a result, she is ready before coming out for oral arguments.
Each clerk who works with Justice Sotomayor is assigned to an area of law they prefer, Spoo said. ‘‘I preferred intellectual property and worked in that discipline.’’
Criminal cases were another matter.
When Sotomayor was named to the federal bench, she worked on criminal cases. As a result, she became deeply involved in the research and got to the heart of the case before arguments began.
She had previous experience because of her work as an assistant district attorney under Robert Morgenthau, district attorney for New York County.
Because of that work, she knew criminal law so well and had a lot of experience in those issues.
While serving on the Second District Court of Appeals, she authored and handed down hundreds of opinions, he said. Those 17 years on the bench as well as a criminal prosecutor gave her lots of experience.
Sotomayor can be expected to open doors to minorities on the bench that previously had been closed.
Spoo compared her opportunities to those of Retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman named to the supreme court.
Like her predecessor, he expects Sotomayor to break glass ceilings in the legal system.
The Second Court of Appeals is located about three blocks from the World Trade Center.
Spoo began his clerkship two weeks after 9/11 and saw the drama that followed.
Heavy dust still blanketed the area and people were wearing masks to protect themselves.
‘‘I wore a mask during the early part of my employment,’’ he said. ‘‘Security also had been raised and it was the first time people had to go through two checkpoints to get to the court. I had to go through the process even though I was an employee there.’’
It also was a strange sight to see armed guards carrying automatic weapons were on the steps to the courthouse building on Foley Square. The courthouse is still at the same location.
Those on the upper floors of the court facing the World Trade Center had full view of what was going on. They saw people holding hands and jumping from the burning building. There was a lot of counseling going on for quite some time.
Judge Sotomayor’s newly remodeled offices faced away from the center and she and her staff didn’t see the disaster unfold.
It is important, Spoo said, to understand how she became part of the federal judiciary and moved to the high court.
Initially, she was appointed to the federal bench by President George H.W. Bush and later was elevated to the appellate court by President Bill Clinton.
President Barrack Obama made the nomination to the Supreme Court.
The fact that Sotomayor was recognized by both Republican and Democratic Administrations must have been in the back of the minds of opponents during the confirmation hearings, Spoo continued. It was clear that she had bipartisan support.
Sotomayor quietly played the part as a nominee by being noncommittal on issues during the hearings.
Judicial nominees don’t want to be saying something about issues and have people think this is their stand, he said. That has been the stand ever since the controversy over the nomination of Robert Bork, a man who did speak his mind about issues. The resulting uproar eventually cost him the nomination.
After Bork, supreme court nominees became very careful about what they said.
One example was Justice Clarence Thomas who was very tight-lipped and wouldn’t talk about abortion or other issues. All were successful candidates in that nomination quest except Harriet Miers who was nominated as an associate justice by President George W. Bush.
Opposition from both sides cause Bush to withdraw her name.
No one talked about positions on issues.
Sotomayor followed that pattern, not talking about abortion even after criticism about her silence.
Rather, Spoo said, she takes the stand of waiting until she see what the law is and the facts presented in a case, that she couldn’t prejudge a case as a matter of abstract policy.
‘‘I think it is a proper judicial response, being careful not to decide a case until all facts are there,’’ he said. ‘‘I also think there is something right about a judge not voicing an opinion about public policy on issues.’’
As an attorney and judge, Sotomayor is really friendly and serious, she engages deeply on legal questions when talking about law in issues. She wants to know the law before deciding a case.
During the confirmation hearings, the public saw Sotomayor as she really is, engaging and wanting to make a complete analysis of a question before coming to a conclusion, Spoo said.
Yet, there is another side to Sonya Sotomayor.
Spoo and other clerks saw her as dedicated to colleagues, friends and people she worked with.
She regularly had lunch with her clerks who would bring their lunches from the outside to her chambers. There they would talk about various topics including law, cuisine and dance lessons.
Sotomayor never had children so the law clerks became her family, Spoo said. Every year there would be a reunion and as many as possible would get together with her.
Spoo was on his way to one of those reunions and when he got off the airplane in New Jersey his cell phone was full of messages.
One was from TU Law Dean Janet Levit telling him that Sotomayor had been nominated to the Supreme Court.
That gathering of clerks was cancelled because of the hearings.
After the hearings and confirmation were completed, Spoo went back, this time to meet with Justice Sotomayor in a Puerto Rican Restaurant in downtown New York.
It was a great meeting and there were 50 or more former clerks in attendance, he said. She was her old self.
But, the clerks learned that one had changed for their former boss.
Before the hearings Sotomayor was an unknown, now she was a celebrity and people everywhere wanted to have contact with her and touch her. In some communities she is almost considered a saint.
Being famous has disadvantages the newly-named justice quickly learned.
She was having dinner in a restaurant and people kept crowding in to meet her.
Finally the ever-present marshals on the scene to provide security for her, had to bring in bicycle racks from outside the restaurant and place them around her table she could eat her meal.
Sotomayor is concerned about the people who work with her, Spoo said. That concern was clearly shown when her four newly-hired clerks for the appellate court didn’t have jobs because of her new position.
These individuals did not have experience to be up to speed for similar duties on the Supreme Court, Spoo said. All clerks in that court have worked in the circuit court before moving up to the next level.
Because of her care and concern, she found homes (jobs) for these four people.
Justice Sotomayor will initiate changes in the court by expanding the roles of the Hispanic community in the highest level in law, he said. She also stands to play a critical role in dealing with ideological roles in the court that now is divided between the liberal and conservative philosophies. Only time will see how that role will play out.?

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