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May 26, 2009

Vermont Reacts to Sotomayor Supreme Court Pick

Pres. Barack Obama's pick of Sonia Sotomayor as the next justice of the U.S. Supreme Court won praise from Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chairman of the Judiciary Committee that will oversee her confirmation hearings.

If chosen, Sotomayor would replace Justice David Souter, who announced his retirement earlier this year.

Sotomayor is currently a judge on the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City, a district that includes federal cases appealed from Vermont courts. She's served in that role for 11 years.

Pres. Obama informed Leahy of the news during a brief phone interview this morning. Leahy is visiting US troops in Afghanistan.

Sotomayor has been nominated by both Democratic and Republican presidents, and she was twice confirmed by the Senate with strong, bipartisan support, Leahy noted.

"Her record is exemplary," Leahy continued. "Judge Sotomayor’s nomination is an historic one, and when confirmed she will become the first Hispanic justice, and just the third woman to sit on the nation’s highest court.  Having a Supreme Court that better reflects the diversity of America helps ensure that we keep faith with the words engraved in Vermont marble over the entrance of the Supreme Court: 'Equal justice under law.'"

Leahy added, "I believe Judge Sotomayor understands that the courthouse doors must be as open to ordinary Americans as they are to government and big corporations."

A graduate of Princeton University and Yale Law School, Sotomayor has been both a big-city prosecutor and a corporate litigator. Before she was promoted to the Second Circuit by Pres. Bill Clinton, she was appointed to the District Court for the Southern District of New York by Pres. George H. W. Bush. If chosen to replace Justice Souter, she would be the only justice with experience as a trial judge.

Leahy called on his colleagues to back Sotomayor's nomination quickly enough so she can be seated by September, before the next Supreme Court session begins in October.

Sen. Bernie Sanders also weighed in on Sotomayor's nomination.

“I am especially interested in her views on privacy rights and how, in these times of international tension, we can preserve our civil liberties and constitutional rights while we defend our nation against those who would do us harm," noted Sanders in a statement. " At a time of growing corporate power, I also want to ascertain her views as to how the courts can protect the rights of workers and consumers against the abuses of large and powerful corporations."

The 2nd Circuit hears cases from Vermont, so it's no surprise that Vermont attorneys have been peppered with questions from Sotomayor.

Burlington attorney Ron Shems, of Shems, Dunkiel, Raubvogel & Saunders, argued a case before Sotomayor involving Vermont’s mercury labeling laws. He found her to be both prepared and genial.

"She was able to get through some of the more estoteric legal points and cut right through to the chase," said Shems.

Shems was arguing a case before the 2nd Circuit again on Tuesday just as Pres. Obama broke the news.

"We were in mid-argument, and the presiding judge asked if it was OK to stop so they could listen to their colleague be nominated," said Shems. "All three judges were beaming. The pride you could see from the judges was palpable."

Sotomayor was the presiding judge in another Vermont case. In 2004, Williamstown eighth grader Zachary Guiles wore an anti-Bush T-shirt to school that included pics of lines of cocaine and a martini. The school told him he couldn’t wear the shirt unless he covered up the pictures. He refused and was sent home, and later sued the school. Federal District Judge William Sessions sided with Guiles, and the school appealed to the 2nd Circuit. Sotomayor and her colleagues upheld Sessions' decision in 2006.

"I thought she was tremendously intelligent and prepared. I am very enthusiastic about her appointment," said Bennington attorney Steve Saltonstall, who represented Guiles. "I think she'll be fantastic as a Supreme Court justice."

Sounds like in Vermont, the jury’s already declared a verdict on Pres. Obama’s pick.

"At a time of growing corporate power, I also want to ascertain her views as to how the courts can protect the rights of workers and consumers against the abuses of large and powerful corporations."

Ah, yes. Something new and different from Bernie.

Courts are not designed to find ways to "protect" workers and consumers from the corporate bogeyman. They are there to apply the law as it stands, whatever it is. Period. Congress makes the laws, courts don't.

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