Saturday, May 2, 2009

Sotomayor's Anti-First Amendment Decision Should Disqualify Her for Supreme Court

According to Sam Stein in the Huffington Post, Sonia Sotomayor is "the odds-on favorite" to be chosen by Barack Obama to fill retiring Justice David Souter's seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. She now sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals of the Second Circuit in New York City. She is regularly described as liberal and a judicial activist - fine in my book - and it would good to have a first Hispanic and another woman on the Supreme Court.

But she has one major, very bad decision on free speech and press to her discredit, which should give everyone who values these freedoms in our society serious cause for concern about Sotomayor's possible nomination to the High Court.

The decision came from Sotomayor's Second Circuit Court last May, regarding Lewis Mills High School student Avery Doninger. While running for Senior Class Secretary, Ms. Doninger found reason to object to the school's cancellation of a "jamfest" event, and characterized those who scotched the event as "douchebags" on her off-campus LiveJournal blog (she also characterized a school official in that same blog posting as getting "pissed off"). The school officials, in turn, took umbrage, prohibited Avery from running for Class Secretary, and disregarded the plurality of votes she received, anyway, as a write-in candidate. Avery sued the school officials, and the Federal District Court supported the school. Avery appealed to Sotomayor's Second Circuit Court.

After acknowledging the Supreme Court's 1969 Tinker decision, which held that students do not "shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate," Sotomayor's Court proceeded to affirm the District Court's ruling - that is, Sonia Sotomayor and her colleague justices upheld the high school's right to punish Doninger for her off-campus speech. Their reasoning was that schools have an obligation to impart to their students "shared values," which include not only the importance of free expression but a "proper respect for authority".

"Proper respect for authority" ... is this what our democratic society and freedom is based upon? Last time I checked, I thought our democracy and freedom were predicated on the principle that all people have a right to express their opinions, which must certainly include disrespect for authority, if actions by the authority - such as canceling a school event such as "jamfest" - are at issue.

Or as Constitutional scholar and law-professor Jonathan Turley put it about this decision last year, "The continual expansion of the authority of school officials over student speech teaches a foul lesson to these future citizens. I would prefer some obnoxious speech than teaching students that they must please government officials if they want special benefits or opportunities."

It is not exaggerating events to say that our society hangs in the balance with the appointment of Souter's replacement to the Supreme Court. A powerful, corrective revolution is underway, with Obama's election as President, and the Democrats about to obtain a 60-seat majority in the U.S. Senate. But an adverse Supreme Court can stop and undo a lot of that.

David Souter was a surprise to the Republicans who appointed him and worked for his confirmation. His vote made a difference on the side of progressive and humane issues in many a Supreme Court decision.

We cannot afford or risk a Souter in reverse with this new appointment - a Justice who seems to have a progressive record, but who turns out to have an insufficient passion for protecting and strengthening the freedoms that make our country great.

I hope Sonia Sotomayor's name is taken off the list.

See also full text of Sotomayor's decision ... further discussion on Andy Thibault's Cool Justice Report ... and my 2005 Flouting of the First Amendment

Added after Obama's Nomination of Sotomayor: Why One Strike Against the First Amendment Should Rule Sotomayor Out of the Supreme Court
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