Bench Memos

Law & the Courts

This Day in Liberal Judicial Activism—July 14

President Obama and Sonia Sotomayor in 2009 (Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty)

1983—In a separate concurring opinion (in State v. Hunt), Judge Martha Craig Daughtrey of the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals offers her view that the Tennessee constitution is best read as protecting obscenity. Daughtrey recognizes, alas, that the state supreme court has rejected her reading and foreclosed the path she would pursue if the question were “open for me to decide.” Ten years later, President Clinton will appoint Daughtrey to the Sixth Circuit.

2005—By a vote of 4 to 3, the Wisconsin supreme court, in an opinion by chief justice Shirley S. Abrahamson (in Ferdon v. Wisconsin Patients Compensation Fund), rules that a statutory cap on noneconomic damages in medical-malpractice cases violates the state constitutional guarantee of equal protection (which supposedly derives from the declaration in the state constitution that “All people are born equally free and independent”).

Purporting to apply deferential rational-basis review, the majority concludes that the cap is not rationally related to the legislative objective of lowering malpractice-insurance premiums. The rational connection between caps on noneconomic damages and lower premiums ought to be obvious. Further, the dissenters complain, the majority “ignore[s] the mountain of evidence supporting the effectiveness of caps.”

2009—In the opening day of questioning of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy tells Sotomayor that her critics “have taken a line out of your speeches and twisted it, in my view, to mean something that you never intended.” Leahy then proceeds to misquote Sotomayor’s notorious “wise Latina” line to eliminate the very elements of the comment that render it controversial: “You said that you ‘would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would reach wise decisions.’”

Here’s what Sotomayor actually said (in a prepared text that was turned into a law-review article and that she repeated, in substantially similar form, on other occasions):

I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.

Not to be outshone by Leahy in the category of brazen mendacity, Senator Schumer accuses Sotomayor’s critics of “selectively quot[ing]” an April 2009 speech by Sotomayor “to imply that you will improperly consider foreign law and sources in cases before you.” Schumer then selectively misquotes Sotomayor’s speech to obscure her blanket defense of freewheeling resort to foreign and international legal materials in determining the meaning of American constitutional provisions. Sotomayor colludes with Schumer in an effort to bamboozle Republican senators and the public about her views on this controversial issue.

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