The Supreme Court is composed of the Chief Justice and eight associate justices nominated by the President and confirmed with the “advice and consent” of the US Senate. Once appointed, justices have life tenure, serving “during good behavior” which terminates only upon death, resignation, retirement or conviction on impeachment. Therefore, a justice will have a great impact on the judicial system for many years.
Officially, justices do not receive endorsements from political parties, but are informally branded in legal and political circles as being conservatives, moderates or liberals.
Six of the current justices were appointed by Republican Presidents. The remaining three by democratic Presidents. It is commonly known that Chief Justice Roberts(54),
Justices Scalia(73), Thomas(61), and Alito(59),make up the court’s conservative wing.
Justices Stevens(89), Ruth Ginsburg(76), and Breyer(71), are considered liberals.
Justice Kennedy(73) is considered a conservative who “occasionally votes with the liberals.” Kennedy is often the “swing vote” determining the outcome of close cases.
Newly appointed Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor (55) nominated by President Barack Obama is a liberal jurist who has replaced another liberal justice ( David Souter) so her presence will not do much to alter the ideological equilibrium of the court. However many people are expecting her to go head to head on many important issues with Scalia, the court’s leading conservative.
Justice Sotomayor is the third woman appointed to the Court but more importantly she is the first Hispanic Justice. Her rise to the Highest Court is an incredible story. She was born into very humble beginnings in The Bronx, New York. Her parents moved there from Puerto Rico during World War II. Her father,a factory worker, did not speak any English and he died when she was only 9. Her mother worked 6 days a week to support her and her brother and she always stressed the importance of education. Sotomayor studied history at Princeton Universtity graduating with the high honors. She then went to Yale Law School where she was an editor of the Yale Law Journal.
She first worked as an assistant district attorney in New York (1979-84) prosecuting violent crimes. She then joined a private practice fighting counterfeiters for corporations like Fendi.
In 1992, She took the oath in as a Federal Judge ( nominated by President George H. W. Bush.)
In 1998 she was elevated to the Second Circuit Federal Court of Appeals (by President Clinton.)
Then on August 8th2009 ,she was sworn in at the Supreme Court.
Her swearing in is of course not without political controversy Democrats continue to praise Sotomayor as a fair and impartial Justice with bi-partisan favor and historical appeal. On the other hand, Republicans have labeled her as a judicial activist intent on reinterpreting the law to conform with her own beliefs. She was once quoted as saying “ a wise Latina women with the richness of her experiences”Would reach a better conclusion than a white man “who hasn’t lived that life.”
Despite her critics, President Obama must have always been considering Sotomayor for the court when he said he wanted a justice with a “common touch.” Justice Sotomayor has proven to have a keen awareness of laws impact on everyday life. She also understands that upholding the rule of law means going beyond legal theory to ensure consistent, fair, common-sense applications of the law to real world facts.
Robert W. CurLey, Jr
Language Consultant of Law in English