Sotomayor and the Law through the Eyes of a First-Year Law Student
Okay, so I’m only a simple law student. I just finished my first year of law school and did fairly well. I haven’t graduated, haven’t passed the bar, and haven’t been a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, like President Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Judge Sonia Sotomayor. I certainly can’t compare my resume with the President’s, but sometimes I wish they would remember those foundational principles that a first-year law student learns. It seems they forgot them long ago.
As a first-year law student, you quickly learn that the law must be respected. For example, I have learned that the enforcement of a contract must be done appropriately and consistently, in spite of the fact that it may not always be “nice.” In fact, to do anything else would diminish our justice system.
That is why it troubles me that President Obama and Judge Sotomayor apparently want to apply “empathy” instead of the law in our courtrooms. While it sounds good in theory, to adjudicate based upon a standard of “compassion” would actually make our justice system unjust, as decisions will be based on the judge’s personal preference.
Justice is supposed to be blind. We are all created equal. Should a person get more sympathy from the court just because he looks different than I? Should the law apply differently to one of us versus the other just because of our socio-economical standing? I hope not. I hope that we never reach a point in our country where someone feels that they have done something wrong because they have succeeded where others have not.
One of the ways we learn to correctly analyze cases in law school is called the “IRAC” method. It is, on its face, fairly simple. “I” stands for “issue.” That means that you look at the point of dispute between the parties. “R” stands for “rule.” You look for the rule of law, as written in the statute, cases, or Constitution and state that law. “A” stands for “analyze.” You take that rule of law and apply it to the specific facts in the case. You should, in your analysis, always support your reasoning with prior cases and written statutes. Finally, “C” stands for “conclusion.” Take the facts, having applied them to the rule of law, and reach a conclusion. It is almost a mathematical equation: facts + law = conclusion.
The problem I see in the President and Sonia Sotomayor’s view of our judiciary is that they want to create new math, if you will: facts + law + my personal preferences = the “right” decision.
That is what we saw in Sotomayor’s New Haven firefighters decision,1 recently overturned by the Supreme Court. While her supporters may argue that she was following precedent, none was cited. Sotomayor went from “I” to “C” with nothing in the middle. When you take that, along with her comments about race, you wonder if her decision was based on her personal preference to “help” minorities.
Any law school student can tell you, if a judge does not like a law, he can call the legislature and ask them to change it just like any other citizen. Some judges though, use their positions to bend the law — and even the Constitution — to attain a desired outcome.
Even in high school we learned that the Framers provided a mechanism to change the Constitution. It requires the people to make that determination (and, by “the people,” I mean more than nine unelected Justices in black robes). The Constitution should be applied strictly and respectfully, even when the result is not what you want or what makes you feel good. Consistency and evenhandedness are paramount if all people are to be given fair consideration and treated equitably in the eyes of the law.
But then again, I’m just a first-year law student.
Mrs. Trotter is Concerned Women for America’s Summer 2009 Legal Intern as part of the Alliance Defend Fund’s Blackstone Legal Fellowship Program.
- Ricci v. DeStefano, No. 07-1428 (U.S. 2009).
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