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Profs. Label Sotomayor Safe Nominee

Publication Date: 
May 29, 2009
The Stanford Daily
Alan Guo

Dean Larry Kramer and Professor Jenny Martinez are quoted in The Stanford Daily in an article about yesterday's Symposium on President Obama's nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor for Justice of the Supreme Court:

Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama’s current nominee to the Supreme Court, stands not as an example of change, but as a safe choice in what has become a politically dominated nomination process, argued Law School Dean Larry Kramer and Associate Law Professor Jenny Martinez in a Supreme Court Symposium yesterday.

While both Kramer and Martinez noted Sotomayor’s unique background as the first-ever Hispanic woman to be nominated, they suggested that the main reason for her nomination was to avoid political backfire. Politics, they argued, places limits on the scope of nominees to those who are safe politically, rather than the most qualified.

This desire to be safe, Kramer argued from the perspective of a Constitutional scholar, leads to selection of judges from the federal bench.

“Historically, there are really few great Supreme Court judges coming from a federal court background,” Kramer said. “Experience in federal court does not really prepare you for the work of a Supreme Court justice.”

He said that to select truly great judges, the Executive Branch needs to broaden its pool of candidates to include lawyers from other backgrounds.

“The trend [of selecting federal court judges as Supreme Court justices] is probably because they have a safer, cleaner record, comparing to, say, a politician, whose radical position in some issues might make the nomination approval process difficult,” Martinez explained.

Sotomayor, who served for 10 years on the federal bench, fits the description.

“In the pool of federal court judges, Sotomayor is probably not the greatest, but definitely not the worst either,” Kramer said, echoing Martinez’s comment that the Executive Branch wants a nominee with a clean record. “She is somewhere in the middle, but she is a great fit for Supreme Court nomination.”

In addition, the two speakers remarked on the role of the Supreme Court in maintaining the balance of power among the three branches of the government.

Kramer argued that the position of the Supreme Court has been elevated in recent years to a level so high that it is detrimental to the functioning of American democracy.

“The Supreme Court is vested with so much power and the nomination under so much scrutiny that nominating anyone truly remarkable and unconventional is unimaginable,” Kramer said.

He argued that leaving the Court with the ultimate decision on important issues defeats the purpose of participatory citizenship and democracy.

Martinez maintained that the Supreme Court conceded much power to the Executive Branch during the Bush administration in the name of the War on Terror.

She related major Supreme Court cases during the Bush years that showcased the concession of power, including Rumsfeld vs. Padilla, a case she presented to the Court.

“Judging from the past, the Supreme Court has only been most active after the war, but not during the war,” Martinez said.

Students responded positively to the talk, finding the perspective of the speakers unique and refreshing.

“Most major news media I have heard have praised Sotomayor and hyped up some of her comments about judicial activism,” wrote Alfred Martinez Jr. ’12 in an email to The Daily. “So, hearing Dean Kramer dismiss all this hype and talk about how the Judicial Branch by definition forms policy was very refreshing.”

Siddhartha Oza ’11, the director of SIG Campus Awareness, which organized the event, thought it was a success with a great turnout.

“However, I like to disagree from Prof. Martinez,” Oza said. “I don’t think the Supreme Court should yield to the demand of the Executive even in extenuating circumstances like the war. The Court is there to defend people’s rights and liberty.”