Lawyers group gives Sotomayor its highest approval rating

McClatchy NewspapersJuly 7, 2009 

WASHINGTON — The nation's lawyers and law enforcement leaders gave Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor ringing endorsements Tuesday, even as Republicans tried to rally opposition.

With Sotomayor's Senate confirmation hearing less than a week away, the American Bar Association announced that the 54-year-old appellate judge is "well qualified" to serve on the nation's highest court. The unanimous recommendation is the association's highest grade for a potential judge.

"The only way she can get derailed is if she performs poorly next week," acknowledged Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a Senate Judiciary Committee member. He said he was still undecided, but added, "I honestly think I could vote for her."

Separately, the Fraternal Order of Police and other law-enforcement organizations convened to reiterate their support for Sotomayor. The law enforcement endorsements coincided with the release of a Senate Judiciary Committee study showing that as an appellate judge, Sotomayor voted to affirm 92 percent of the criminal convictions that came before her.

A one-time New York City prosecutor and trial judge, Sotomayor nearly always sided with Republican appointees in criminal cases that the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals considered, the study shows. She sat with Republican-named judges on more than 400 criminal cases as an appellate judge, and agreed with all Republican appointees 97 percent of the time.

Appellate panels on which Sotomayor served reversed only 2 percent of convictions. Among their affirmation rates: cases involving illegal firearms, 98 percent; drug offenses, 93 percent; criminal immigration violations, 92 percent; and economic crime, 93 percent.

"It is clear that she weighs the facts in evidence and makes her rulings based on the merits of the case," said Chuck Canterbury, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police. "She is a model jurist: tough, fair-minded and mindful of the constitutional protections afforded to all U.S. citizens."

Still, Republicans stayed on the warpath. On the Senate floor, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, told Senate colleagues that too many judges base decisions on personal feelings, a nod to President Barack Obama's notion that empathy is an important quality for a Supreme Court justice to possess.

"Whatever the new empathy standard is, it is not law," Sessions said. "It is more akin to politics than law. Whenever a judge puts his or her thumb on the scale of justice in favor of one party or another, the judge necessarily disfavors the other party."

Another Senate Judiciary Committee member, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said in an interview that while he'd taken no stand on Sotomayor, "I don't think we've seen the complete picture yet."

A 15-lawyer American Bar Association panel interviewed hundreds of sources and examined thousands of pages of documents in its course of reviewing Sotomayor's career. The association's Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary made the rating public in a letter to White House Counsel Gregory Craig, but the committee didn't release supporting documents.

The association's scorecard doesn't carry formal weight, and some Supreme Court justices, including Clarence Thomas, have been confirmed despite receiving less-than-stellar ratings from the group. Over the course of 50 years, though, the ratings have assumed significant influence.

The two newest Supreme Court justices, John G. Roberts and Samuel Alito, both received the "well qualified" rating. Former President George W. Bush's widely criticized other nominee, Harriet Miers, dropped out before she could be rated.

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McClatchy Newspapers 2009

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