Jul 20, 2009
Sonia Sotomayor, the new nominee for the Supreme Court, is described as a judicial liberal. The truth is, she’ll be another part of a Supreme Court that has been moving more and more to the right in recent years.
Republicans in the Senate are making the pretense that Sotomayor is “too liberal” and “too ideological,” because of a remark she made about being a “wise Latina woman.” But Sotomayor is no ideologue pushing so-called “liberal” causes. In fact, she’s more conservative than David Souter, the judge she’ll replace. In her years on the bench, she has ruled consistently with big business. On criminal cases, she’s especially hard-nosed. While on the Appeals Court, she helped reject 45 out of 50 racial discrimination cases her panel heard.
She’ll fit into the current Supreme Court. Under Chief Justice John Roberts, the Court shifted further to the right in the term just finished. It ruled against environmental groups in five out of five cases. It ruled that evidence obtained from an unlawful arrest can still be admitted in court. And it ruled that prisoners have no constitutional right to a DNA testing that could prove their innocence!
This is a very reactionary court that has been getting more and more reactionary in its rulings. And with Roberts as its Chief Justice, it is clearly making plans to go even further in that direction, toward attacking abortion rights, the rights of those falsely convicted, and workers trying to protect themselves on the job.
Certainly Sotomayor, appointed by a Democratic president, may not be as reactionary as Roberts, appointed by a Republican. But the irony is, that when recent Republican presidents have had the opportunity, they have appointed openly ideological reactionaries to the bench. When Democratic presidents have had the same chance, they have not taken the opportunity to “rebalance” the court with justices who would in any small way consider the interests of workers, of women, of minorities – of anyone not truly treated equally by the law.
This shift in the Supreme Court is no accident. And in fact, it has little to do with the president who appoints the judges. The most liberal judge on the current Court, Stevens, was appointed by Gerald Ford, a Republican, in 1975.
No, the biggest cause affecting the Supreme Court is what the population does. When people were fighting for their rights, the Supreme Court ruled much more consistently in their favor, effectively inscribing those rights with the force of law. In the absence of an active fight by the population, presidents and senators have felt comfortable stuffing the Court with ideological reactionaries who undo the rights people fought for.
Our rights don’t lie in the Court, or in Congress, or the White House. Our rights are the ones we force them to recognize.