Updated June 29, 2009 – 12:47 p.m.
By Seth Stern, CQ Staff
Critics of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor seized on Monday’s high court ruling overturning a decision she had joined in a high-profile reverse discrimination case, presaging questions likely to arise at her Senate confirmation hearing next month.
In a 5-4 decision by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy , the court ruled that the city of New Haven violated the rights of the 19 white firefighters by throwing out the results of an officers’ promotion exam in which minority candidates received disproportionately low scores.
Retiring Justice David H. Souter , whom Sotomayor would replace, joined the three other members of the court’s liberal wing in dissent. The ruling was announced on the last day of decisions for the term and Souter’s tenure as justice.
The decision in the case, Ricci v. DeStefano, was quickly cited by conservatives as new evidence that Sotomayor is a judicial activist who decides cases based on her own personal preferences. Sotomayor is certain to face questions about her reasoning at her Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing, scheduled to begin on July 13.
“This case sharpens our focus on Judge Sotomayor’s troubling speeches and writings, which indicate the opposite belief: that personal experiences and political views should influence a judge’s decision,” Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the ranking Republican of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement. “That theory is a breathtaking departure from the proper role of the American judge and will clearly be the subject of questioning at the upcoming hearing.”
Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy , D-Vt., said in a statement that “it would be wrong to use today’s decision to criticize Judge Sonia Sotomayor, who sat on the panel of the Second Circuit that heard this case but did not write its unanimous opinion.”