Sotomayor's confirmation hearings at a glance

McClatchy NewspapersJuly 12, 2009 

Confirmation hearings for Judge Sonia Sotomayor, President Barack Obama's first appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court, begin at 8 a.m. EDT Monday before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Witnesses will range from law professors to lawmen, baseball players to firefighters. The White House hopes to have a floor vote on the nomination before the Senate's August recess. Here are some facts about the hearings and the court:

_ The court's 2009 term opens Oct. 6, but the justices will return Sept. 9 to hear a case that involves the rights of corporations to make campaign contributions.

_The court moved incrementally right in the 2008 term under Chief Justice John G. Roberts and appears poised to continue that trend, while the Democratic-controlled executive and legislative branches have shifted significantly left.

_ Justice Anthony Kennedy is the swing vote: He was with the majority 92 percent of the time and sided with Roberts 86 percent of the time in the last term.

_ Sotomayor may be more conservative on criminal cases than David Souter, whom she'd replace. A study by the liberal New York University School of Law's Brennan Center for Justice found her solidly in the mainstream on the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where she was with the majority in 98.2 percent of constitutional cases. She voted to strike down governmental actions in 21 percent of cases, slightly more than other judges in her circuit, at 17 percent.

_ Some witnesses listed for the hearings:

For Republicans: New Haven, Conn., firefighter Frank Ricci, who was central to a civil rights case that Sotomayor ruled against and the Supreme Court overturned; Linda Chavez, Center for Equal Opportunity; Sandy Froman, National Rifle Association; Dr. Charmaine Yoest, Americans United for Life; John McGinnis, Northwestern University School of Law professor.

For Democrats: New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg; former FBI Director Louis Freeh; Kate Stith, Yale Law School professor; Chuck Canterbury, Fraternal Order of Police; former Major League Baseball pitcher David Cone.

_ The court's 2008 term case load:

About 8,000 petitions filed for certiorari, a petition to get a case heard.

Three-fourths probably in forma pauperis — a "pauper's" petition, filed by someone who can't afford filing fees — typically filed by criminal defendants.

2,000 petitions, perhaps, on the "paid" docket — everything except in forma pauperis — from parties with retained counsel.

78 cases granted plenary review, cases to be reviewed by the entire nine-member court.

One dismissed before oral argument.

Two dismissed after argument.

One argued, but held.

74 signed decisions.

23 were 5-4 rulings; 26 were unanimous.

_ About the justices:

Name; percentage in majority in 2008 term; age; (age when appointed); religion; law school:

John G. Roberts; 81 percent; 54; (50); Roman Catholic; Harvard.

John Paul Stevens; 65 percent; 89; (55); Protestant; Northwestern.

Antonin Scalia; 83 percent; 73; (50); Catholic; Harvard.

Anthony Kennedy; 92 percent; 72; (52) Catholic; Harvard.

David Souter; 68 percent; 69; (51) Episcopalian; Harvard.

Clarence Thomas; 81 percent; 61; (43); Catholic; Yale.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg; 70 percent; 76; (60); Jewish; Harvard.

Stephen Breyer; 75 percent; 70; (56); Jewish; Harvard.

Samuel Alito; 81 percent; 59; (56); Catholic; Yale.

_ The Senate unanimously confirmed Ronald Reagan's appointments of Kennedy and Scalia, as well as now-retired Sandra Day O'Connor. Gerald Ford's pick of Stevens also went through without a dissenting vote. Since then, it's gotten a little hotter:

George H.W. Bush: Souter 90-9; Thomas 52-48, the closest in the 20th century.

Bill Clinton: Ginsburg 97-3; Breyer 87-9.

George W. Bush: Roberts 78-22; Alito 58-42.

_ The average age of the justices on the 2008 court when appointed was 52.5. Sotomayor is 55. The average age of the bench now is 69.2. With Sotomayor, it would go to 67.6.

_ Random facts about the court:

Sotomayor would be the sixth Catholic on the bench if she's confirmed.

She'd earn a salary of $213,900, up from the $184,500 she receives on the appeals bench.

The Senate has rejected about 20 percent of the nominees to the Supreme Court.

Nominees testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee first happened in 1925 and became accepted practice by 1955.

The court began with five justices and over history it grew to six, then seven, then nine, then 10, then down to seven, then back to nine.

_ Backgrounds.

Roberts: Father was a Bethlehem Steel Co. executive in Indiana.

Kennedy: Father was a prominent lawyer in Sacramento, Calif.

Ginsburg: Father was a Brooklyn furrier.

Alito: Father was a high school teacher and the director of New Jersey's Office of Legislative Services.

Scalia: Father was a professor of Romance languages in New York.

Thomas: Father abandoned him when he was 2; mother was a domestic employee; raised in large part by his grandfather.

Breyer: Father was legal counsel for the San Francisco Board of Education.

Stevens: Father was a major Chicago hotelier who went bankrupt.

Souter: Father was a New Hampshire banker.

_ The American Bar Association has called Sotomayor highly qualified. The Senate Judiciary Committee received a letter from more than 1,000 academics expressing their support for Sotomayor. She's opposed by anti-abortion groups and gun rights supporters, among others.

(Levings reports for The Kansas City Star.)

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