Sonia Sotomayor in Confirmation hearings


On Abortion: Precedents must be given deference in any situation

Q: When there are multiple precedents and a question arises, are all the previous decisions discarded, or should the court reexamine all the cases on point?

A: The health and welfare of a woman must be a compelling consideration. It has been a part of the court?s jurisprudence and a part of its precedents. Those precedents must be given deference in any situation that arises before the court.

Source: 2009 SCOTUS Confirmation Hearing, Senate Judiciary Committee Jul 14, 2009

On Civil Rights: In some situations, race in some form must be considered

Q: Do you believe affirmative action is more justified in education than in employment? Or do you think it makes no difference?

A: The question of whether affirmative action is necessary in our society and what form it should take is always, first, a legislative determination, in terms of legislative or government employer determination, in terms of what issue it is addressing & what remedy it is looking to structure. The Constitution promotes and requires the equal protection of law of all citizens in its 14th Amendment. To ensure that protection, there are situations in which race in some form must be considered; the courts have recognized that. Equality requires effort, and so there are some situations in which some form of race has been recognized by the court. It is firmly my hope, as it was expressed in Justice O'Connor [in the case of] the University of Michigan Law School admissions criteria, that in 25 years, race in our society won't be needed to be considered in any situation.

Source: 2009 SCOTUS Confirmation Hearing, Senate Judiciary Committee Jul 14, 2009

On Crime: Death penalty is constitutional under certain situations

Q: What's your view of the death penalty, in terms of personally? A: The issue for me with respect to the death penalty is that the Supreme Court, since Gregg, has determined that the death penalty is constitutional under certain situations. I have rejected challenges to the federal law and its application in the one case I handled as a district court judge, but it's a reflection of what my views are on the law.
Source: 2009 SCOTUS Confirmation Hearing, Senate Judiciary Committee Jul 14, 2009

On Environment: Government taking to develop a blighted area was appropriate

Q: What is your opinion of the Kelo decision? What is an appropriate "public use" for condemning private property?

A: Kelo is now a precedent of the court. I must follow it. I am bound by a circuit--a Supreme Court decision, as a 2nd Circuit judge. As a Supreme Court judge, I must give it the deference that the doctrine of stare decisis would suggest. The question of the reach of Kelo has to be examined in the context of each situation. And the court did in Kelo note that there was a role for the courts to play in ensuring that takings by a state did in fact intend to serve a public purpose and public use. I understand the concern that many citizens have expressed about whether Kelo did or did not honor the importance of property rights. But the question in Kelo was a complicated one about what constituted public use, and there the court held that a taking to develop an economically blighted area was appropriate.

Source: 2009 SCOTUS Confirmation Hearing, Senate Judiciary Committee Jul 14, 2009

On Government Reform: The president can veto laws but not make them

If [a law says it's] authorized to let the president do something, then the president's acting at the height of his powers. If Congress has explicitly or implicitly prohibited something, then the president's acting at the lowest ebb of his powers. In all of the situations, once you've looked at what Congress has done or not done, you then are directed to look at what the president's powers may be under the Constitution minus whatever powers Congress has in that area.

That's the basic structure of our system of government. That's why the Congress makes the law. The president can veto them, but he can't make them. He can regulate, if Congress gives him the authority to do so and within other delegated authorities. I shouldn't use the word "delegated," because it has a legal meaning. But the point is that that question is always looked at in light of what Congress has said on the issue and in light of Congress's power, as specified in the Constitution.

Source: 2009 SCOTUS Confirmation Hearing, Senate Judiciary Committee Jul 14, 2009

On Gun Control: The Second Amendment gives an individual right to bear arms

Q: It is now protected under the Constitution that the citizens of the District of Columbia can have a handgun, isn't there a danger here that if you don't have this incorporated against the states, that we'd have this result where the citizens of DC have a constitutional right to have a handgun, but the people of Wisconsin might not?

A: The Supreme Court did hold that there is in the Second Amendment an individual right to bear arms. And that is its holding and that is the court's decision. I fully accept that. And in whatever new cases come before me that don't involve incorporation, I would have to consider those issues is the context of a particular state regulation of firearms or other instruments.

Source: 2009 SCOTUS Confirmation Hearing, Senate Judiciary Committee Jul 14, 2009

On Gun Control: Many factors influence Congress's powers on gun control

Q: Are you in favor of restricting the distance that somebody could bring a gun close to a school?

A: Well, the gun-free zones school act, the court struck down in Lopez. In that case and in some of its subsequent cases, the court was examining a wide variety of factors. They included whether the activity that the government was attempting to regulate was economic or non-economic; whether it was an area in which states traditionally regulated; whether the statute at issue had an interstate commerce provision to--as an element of the crime; and then considered whether there was a substantial effect on commerce. The court looked at the congressional findings on that last element, and determined that there weren't enough in the confluence of factors that it was looking at to find that the Constitution--that that particular statute was within Congress's powers. That's the basic approach it has used to other statutes it has looked at.

Source: 2009 SCOTUS Confirmation Hearing, Senate Judiciary Committee Jul 14, 2009

On Jobs: The Supreme Court's Ricci decision set a new standard

Q: Don't you think that these firefighters and other litigants [in the Ricci case] deserve a more detailed analysis of their claims and an explanation for why you ultimately deny their claim?

A: The court's opinion recognize, as I do, the hardship that the firefighters experienced. That's not been said by anyone. The issue before the court was a different one, and the one that the district court addressed was what decision the decision-makers made, not what people behind the scenes wanted the decision-makers to make, but what they were considering. And what they were considering was the state of the law at the time and in an attempt to comply with what they believe the law said and what the panel recognized as what the 2nd Circuit precedent said, that they made a choice under that existing law. The Supreme Court in its decision set a new standard by which an employer and lower court should review what the employer is doing by the substantial evidence test.

Source: 2009 SCOTUS Confirmation Hearing, Senate Judiciary Committee Jul 14, 2009

The above quotations are from Congressional confirmation hearings for Supreme Court and Cabinet nominees.
Click here for other excerpts from Congressional confirmation hearings for Supreme Court and Cabinet nominees.
Click here for other excerpts by Sonia Sotomayor.
Click here for a profile of Sonia Sotomayor.
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Page last updated: May 11, 2020