Friday, June 5, 2009

Tilt to Right of Souter

While Judge Sonia Sotomayor stands in the liberal mainstream on many issues, her record suggests that the Supreme Court nominee could sometimes rule with the top court's conservatives on questions of criminal justice.

Maybe they are beginning to realize they rushed to judge her without knowing anything much about the Judge.

New York criminal-defense lawyers say she is surprisingly tough on crime for a Democratic-backed appointee -- a byproduct, they believe, of her tenure as a prosecutor.

Not every Democrat, not every Hispanic, not every woman is "soft" on crime, nor fits into the expected pigeonhole.

"The reputation of Sotomayor was that sentencing was not an easy ride," says Gerald Shargel, a criminal-defense attorney.

If Nest had bothered to review her record before spewing his nonsense ...

Following recent Supreme Court precedent, Judge Sotomayor tends to see relatively few grounds to overturn criminal convictions, says John Siffert, a New York attorney who taught an appellate advocacy class with the judge at New York University School of Law from 1996 to 2006. On the trial bench, he says, "she was not viewed as a pro-defense judge."

Still, there are reservations, aren't there?

To be sure, Judge Sotomayor has at times shown leniency toward criminal defendants. In 2001, after she had become an appellate-court judge, she agreed to preside over the drug-conspiracy trial of Sandra Carter. The jury convicted Ms. Carter, but Judge Sotomayor sentenced her to six months in prison, far below the term that she could have drawn under the sentencing guidelines, says Edward O'Callaghan, the prosecutor in the case.


Judge Sotomayor, he says, took into account the fact that the defendant was a first-time offender who made far less money than other conspiracy participants.

Oh, geez: empathy.

Michael Bachner, a New York defense lawyer who has handled trials and appeals before Judge Sotomayor, senses a divide in her criminal jurisprudence. She can be "very tough" on white-collar defendants from privileged backgrounds, but is "more understanding of individuals who grew up in a tougher circumstance.

What would Newt say?

Jeffrey Fisher, a Stanford Law School professor who was on the losing side of the January Supreme Court decision, says Judge Sotomayor's ruling demonstrates a "willingness to give police the benefit of the doubt."

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