Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Two Different Views of the Judiciary

Yesterday we had two major announcements concerning the courts. One was the California Supreme Court 6-1 ruling on Proposition 8, and the other was the announcement of Sonia Sotomayor as Obama's nominee for the supreme court. These two events display two completely different views on how the judiciary should act.

The California Supreme Court ruling upheld Proposition 8 and allowed the marriages performed before Proposition 8 was adopted to stand. In the decision, the court acknowledged that it's job is to interpret the laws, not inject their own political and personal opinions into the decisions. On page 3 of the majority opinion the court lays out this principle.
In addressing the issues now presented in the third chapter of this narrative, it is important at the outset to emphasize a number of significant points. First, as explained in the Marriage Cases... our task in the present proceeding is not to determine whether the provision at issue is wise or sound as a matter of policy or whether we, as individuals, believe it should be a part of the California Constitution. Regardless of our views as individuals on this question of policy, we recognize as judges and as a court our responsibility to confine our consideration to a determination of the constitutional validity and legal effect of the measure in question. It bears emphasis in this regard that our role is limited to interpreting and applying the principles and rules embodied in the California Constitution, setting aside our own personal beliefs and values.

In contrast President Obama's supreme court nominee seems to believe that the courts are a policy making body and that you can and should use your own personal experiences to make this policy.

"The court of appeals is where policy is made."

In a quote that is becoming more popular Sonia Sotomayor said, "I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life." Here we have a judge who believes judges should make policy based on their personal experiences. (This New York Times article has a number of other interesting quotes from Judge Sotomayor.)

This is distinctly different from the view offered by the California Supreme Court that the courts should just interpret the law and can not inject their personal opinions.

When John Roberts was nominated he compared being a judge to an umpire accurately calling balls and strikes. Do we want an umpire who will call balls and strikes, or one who will make up new laws on the spot. That is the choice we have in this supreme court nomination battle, and it is the distinct difference between the judicial philosophies of the Bush and Obama whitehouses.

For an excellent article comparing the Sotomayor nomination to the Miguel Estrada hearings by Mason Conservative, click here.

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