The first Latina justice, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, is celebrating her first year on the court with little fanfare and growing respect amongst her peers. As the first Hispanic Justice and the third women to sit on the court her opinions, her demeanor and her attire are watched carefully by fans and detractors.
She arrived on the Court well prepared with 17 years experience as a judge and appeared eager and at ease in her new role: asking 36 questions in the first case she heard. She comes well prepared and easily identifies the core issues of conflict on the matter; receiving public praise from her fellow Justices for it. Nonetheless she has not made any decisions that are considered controversial or led an opinion. Typically legal scholars state it takes 5 years for most justices to find their voice; she will probably be no different.
Though she has maintained a low profile this first year, doing very little public speaking and interviews, she has become an icon in New York where she maintains a home. Where ever she goes she is recognized for her “Wise Latina” comment but her opinions are not as well documented. Legal scholars while trying to assess her opinion and decision making style have concluded, to no surprise, she is part of the liberal wing of the Supreme Court.
Justice Sotomayor has voted with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg more than any other Justice. Overall her opinions and votes have tended to side with the liberal wing on issues ranging from gun rights to religion. She voted to declare juvenile life-without-parole sentences unconstitutional, did not agree with the majority vote that Miranda rights should be the onus of the individual versus law enforcement and dissented that possession of guns for private use should extend beyond that.
She did make a quiet mark for herself on the court when she identified, for the first time ever an individual as an “undocumented immigrant” instead of as an “illegal immigrant” as the Supreme Court has always done.
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