Bench Memos

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Sotomayor’s Snookering of Graham and Hatch on PRLDEF Abortion Briefs


In her testimony, Judge Sotomayor sought initially to give the impression that her primary role as a board member was fundraising.  But in fact, according to information she provided the Senate Judiciary Committee, she was a member of the board’s litigation committee for eight of her twelve years on the board, and she chaired the litigation committee for four of those years.  In addition, the New York Times has reported that Sotomayor was particularly involved with PRLDEF’s litigation:


Sotomayor stood out, frequently meeting with the legal staff to review the status of cases, several former members said. And so across her 12 years on the board — she left when she was appointed a federal judge in 1992 — she played an active role as the defense fund staked out aggressive stances on issues like police brutality, the death penalty and voting rights.

The board monitored all litigation undertaken by the fund’s lawyers, and a number of those lawyers said Ms. Sotomayor was an involved and ardent supporter of their various legal efforts during her time with the group.

Nonetheless, when Senator Graham asked her yesterday about her knowledge of the extreme positions that PRLDEF took in abortion cases, Sotomayor professed only the dimmest general knowledge:

GRAHAM:  During your time on the board — and you had about every job a board member could have — is it a fair statement to say that all of the cases embraced by this group on abortion advocated the woman’s right to choose and argued against restrictions by state and federal government on abortion rights?

SOTOMAYOR:  I didn’t — I can’t answer that question because I didn’t review the briefs. I did know that the fund had a health care docket …


GRAHAM: Judge?

SOTOMAYOR:  … that included challenges to certain limitations on a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy under certain circumstances.

Similarly, when Senator Hatch asked Sotomayor about her knowledge of positions taken by PRLDEF in its briefs, Sotomayor hid behind the assertion that she had never reviewed any of the briefs. 

PRLDEF’s sweeping position on abortion—the position that drove its opposition to provisions on funding limitations, parental involvement, and informed consent—was that it “opposes any efforts to overturn or in any way restrict the rights recognized in Roe v. Wade.”  Is it remotely conceivable that a board member with a 12-year tenure—a lawyer, no less, who was actively involved in PRLDEF’s legal efforts, would be unaware of that position?  Or was Sotomayor trying to snooker Graham and Hatch?  And did she succeed?

Tags: Whelan


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