The announcement by President Barrack Obama that he is appointing Judge Sonia Sotamayor to the U.S. Supreme Court has spawned considerable speculation as to how she would rule on matters of concern to the Christian community. Some critics
have immediately branded her as a "radical liberal", while others have proclaimed her a "moderate choice". These observers miss the central question: Is Judge Sotamayor a jurist who will review cases by carefully examining the Constitution and adhering to the rule of law, or will she render decisions based on her own attitudes about life or her own personal opinions about what constitutes a just society?
The one area where there is consensus is that a Justice Sotamayor is unlikely to tip the ideological balance of the nation's highest court. She replaces David Souter, who clearly believed that the Supreme
Court can and should legislate from the bench. Souter joined a contingent of four justices who regularly ruled in favor of abortion on demand and homosexual rights, and in opposition to the free exercise of religion. Four other justices including Chief Justice Roberts have taken a strict construction/original intent approach to the Constitution. The deciding vote on many cases is that of Justice Anthony Kennedy, whose jurisprudence has been inconsistent and oftentimes convoluted.
Judge Sotamayor has served for eleven years on the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, which reviews federal
cases in the states of New York, Vermont, and Connecticut. Prior to that, she served six years on the U. S. District Court in southern New York.
While many of the judges under consideration by President Obama had established records of judicial activism, Judge Sotamayor's rulings demonstrate a greater level of judicial restraint. In fact, some of her decisions provide rays of hope for those who believe in traditional values and yearn for a justice
system that respects the Christian convictions of the authors of our Constitution.
Here are a sampling of rulings by Judge Sotamayor on issues of interest to Christian families and citizens:
*In the case of CRLP v. Bush,
Judge Sotamayor upheld the Mexico City policy, which forbid the use of federal funds for abortions overseas. Sotamayor rejected the claims of a pro-abortion group, ruling that the challenge did not involve a "fundamental right," and that "the government is free to favor the
anti-abortion position over the pro-choice position, and can do so with public funds."
*In Lin v. Department of Justice, Sotamayor took her colleagues on the court to task who had ruled that only women, and not their husbands, could seek asylum based on China's forced-abortion policy. She said "the termination of a wanted pregnancy under a coercive population control program can only be devastating to a couple, akin, no doubt to the killing of a child." She further said it was important for the court to take heed of "the unique biological nature of pregnancy and special reverence every civilization has accorded to child-rearing and parenthood in marriage."
*In Amnesty America v. Town of W. Hartford
, Sotamayor ruled against
dismissal of a suit brought by pro-life protesters against the city of West Hartford, Connecticut. The protesters charged that police used excessive force against them in a
demonstration. In her opinion, Sotamayor pointed out the assertions by the pro-lifers that "the police responded with far more force than was necessary, and inflicted severe pain on the demonstrators...One officer allegedly shoved and pinned a sitting protester's head to the floor with his foot, and some threatened those who were praying aloud that they would get more 'if they kept crying out in praise of the Lord.'"
RELIGIOUS FREEDOM / FREE SPEECH
*In Hankins v. Lyght, a 70 yr. old Methodist minister charged his church with age discrimination for forcing him into mandatory retirement. Judge Sotamayor wrote that the federal government risks "an unconstitutional trespass" if it attempts to dictate to religious organizations who they can or
cannot hire or dismiss as spiritual leaders.
*In Flamer v. City of White Plains
, Sotamayor struck down a city resolution banning the fixed outdoor
display of religious symbols in public parks. She ruled that the resolution was a content-based regulation, and thus discriminated against religious speech.
In Pappas v. Giuliani, Judge Sotamayor dissented from a ruling that the New York Police Department could terminate an employee from his desk job because he allegedly sent racist materials through the mail. Sotamayor argued that the First Amendment protected speech by the employee "away from the office, on his own time," even if that speech was "offensive, hateful, and insulting."
While these examples are heartening, there are certainly other decisions or statements that Judge Sotamayor has made on the federal bench that are troubling, particularly those dealing with the Second Amendment, employment discrimination, and the
application of international law. Most disconcerting to many is her comment as part of a law school symposium
that the federal courts are where "policy is made."
While Judge Sotamayor has not issued or participated in any rulings that support abortion rights or homosexual rights, it may well be because she has chosen, as a judge should, to respect precedent and the rulings of higher courts. As a Supreme Court justice she would be in a different position where she is able to join other justices in determining the legal standard with which all courts and the nation must comply.
It is difficult to believe that President Obama would appoint someone who does not reflect his vigorous pro-abortion and anti-family views. Yet it has happened often in the last few decades that presidents have appointed justices whose judicial conduct did not match their expectations.
In the case of Sonia Sotamayor, we must pray that that might be so. Since it is nearly impossible for a filibuster to be mounted against her confirmation, we must be intent on the one force that can move mountains, namely the power of prayer. We must pray that Judge Sotamayor will look to the Supreme
Judge for the model of justice she should dispense as one the nation's leading jurists.
For the record, Sotamayor would become the sixth Catholic on the High Court. There are two members of the Jewish faith, and only one who professes a Protestant affiliation. All that is really of little significance. What matters is whether God rules in the hearts of men. In the case of Sonia Sotamayor, we pray that she will look to the one who is truly sovereign as the ultimate arbiter of truth, justice, and righteousness. I urge you to make this woman the focus of your prayers in the days ahead.