USD legal minds talk Sotomayor nomination By Deanna Johnson
Yankton Media, Inc. South Dakota and Washington may be separated by 1,300 miles, but legal minds at The University of South Dakota weighed in on the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court. Barry Vickrey, dean of the Law School at USD, said Sotomayor's unassuming background growing up in a housing project in the South Bronx, along with her gender and her Hispanic ethnicity, would add? needed diversity to the U.S. Supreme Court that currently contains only one woman. If confirmed, Sotomayor will be the third woman and first Hispanic justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. "I think for the U.S. Supreme Court to have only one female justice is not representative of the nation and it's not representative of the expertise that's available in our society, in the legal profession," Vickrey said. Bill Anderson, assistant professor of political science at USD, said ?diversity was definitely a consideration for President Obama when choosing a candidate for the Supreme Court. Sotomayor would help bring the court closer to gender equality as well as representing a wider variety of races, he said. "There is a sort of profound lack of diversity in the (Supreme) Court," Anderson said. "Having someone who is more likely to identify as a Democrat and represent the Latino voting block is creating a more diverse court and may result in decisions that are more widely representative of the United States as a whole." Vickrey said Sotomayor would bring a new perspective to the Supreme Court's decisions, and her decisions will most likely be affected by her gender and ethnicity. But that does not make her any different than any other judge. "It's unrealistic to suggest that anybody's background isn't a factor. If I were sitting on a court deciding a case, my personal background would affect my decision," he said. "I think her background will affect her decision-making process because she's a human being." When considering a justice replacement, Anderson said the president must consider a variety of factors. Anderson said the first consideration is how the replacement judge will fit in the ideological composition of the remainder of the court, making sure the new judge will not upset balance in the court of right- or left-wing opinions. Other considerations are gender, race, ethnicity, practical experience and if the nominated judge has something new to offer the Supreme? Court, he said. "Sotomayor is definitely a criminal prosecution-type of lawyer and judge, so she fits a niche that the court may not have a particular strength in," Anderson said. In a country with many brilliant lawyers and judges, Anderson said, it is impossible to say if Sotomayor is the best qualified for the position on the Supreme Court, but the new and different perspective she will bring is valuable. Vickrey believes Sotomayor is very capable for the position on the Supreme Court, but he also said there could be 10 other people equally as qualified. "The job of a Supreme Court justice is so complex that I just think it is impossible to say that one person at any one moment in time is 'the best qualified,'" he said. Vickrey said the general opinion of Sotomayor from those he has spoken to has been positive. Many are reacting positively to Sotomayor's story of rising from humble beginnings. However, he said, very few American know or care about the functions of the Supreme Court. "I suspect most Americans don't know the names of the current justices and they may not know much about what the Supreme Court does as an institution. I don't think the Supreme Court is very well understood by most of the citizens of the country," Vickrey said. The publicity generated by Sotomayor's nomination is helping to combat the apathy Americans may have toward the Supreme Court, Vickrey said, and more people are becoming interested in the judicial appointment. Between now and the judicial confirmation hearings, Anderson said, extensive background checks will be conducted on Sotomayor, and senators will be arming themselves with tough questions to ask during the hearings. "The background digs for Sotomayor will be happening right now. That's not only past decisions, what this person has done from a career standpoint, but also are there any skeletons in the closet that will cause a confirmation hearing to go awry" Anderson said.
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