Sonia Sotomayor: A Justice Like No Other

In Sonia Sotomayor, Obama makes a historic choice for the court. What her extraordinary life says about the kind of Justice she would be

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Brooks Kraft / Corbis for Time

The President with Sotomayor, the first Hispanic female to be nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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In another case, Sotomayor ruled that investors could bring certain kinds of fraud suits against investment firms in state courts rather than in federal courts. The Supreme Court unanimously overturned that decision, ruling that to permit the suits in state courts would lead to "duplicative litigation." In the third case, the court reversed a decision written by Sotomayor that said individuals have the right to sue a corporation working on behalf of the Federal Government for violations of their constitutional rights. But that was a narrow, 5-4 reversal in which the court's four most consistent liberals--Souter, Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and John Paul Stevens--all supported her reasoning.

In one of her rare hot-button rulings, seven years ago Sotomayor decided against an abortion-rights group that attempted to challenge the federal ban--since lifted by President Obama--on funding international family-planning groups that provide abortions. Writing to uphold a lower-court decision that threw out the case, Sotomayor said, "The Supreme Court has made clear that the government is free to favor the antiabortion position over the pro-choice position, and can do so with public funds." But that case didn't require Sotomayor to comment on the fundamental premise of Roe v. Wade--that the Constitution provides a right to abortion. Nothing has come to light so far in her rulings from the bench that give any clue as to whether she thinks Roe was correctly decided.

How Big a Battle?

For Republicans, opposing a candidate first nominated to the bench by a Republican President and twice confirmed by the Senate will be hard enough. But to do that without stumbling over the fact that she's also the first female Hispanic nominee will require an especially delicate touch. Having alienated many Hispanics with years of anti-immigrant rhetoric, the GOP can scarcely afford to drive them deeper into the Democratic fold. Last November, Obama won 67% of Latino votes, compared with John McCain's 31%, enough to put Florida, New Mexico and Colorado in the Democratic column.

But if Republicans are worried about putting off Hispanics, they are also under enormous pressure from the right not to let Sotomayor go without a fight. "President Obama carried through on his threat to nominate a Justice who would indulge her policy preferences and biases on the bench," says Ed Whelan, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a group opposing Sotomayor's candidacy. "I'm going to continue to do all I can to expose Sotomayor's view of judging and why she's not a good pick for the court." Conservative activist groups are already airing commercials that attack Sotomayor's role in the New Haven case. Even a losing fight can have benefits for a party as disabled as the GOP is now.

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