May 26th, 2009
10:38 AM ET
7 years ago

Sotomayor: 'Policy is made' at Appeals Court

WASHINGTON (CNN) - An offhand comment that Judge Sonia Sotomayor made to a group of law students in 2005 will likely help fuel conservative opposition to her nomination to the Supreme Court.

At a Duke University panel discussion held in February 2005, the federal appeals court judge and President Obama's choice to replace retiring Justice David Souter told a group of law school students that the U.S. Court of Appeals "is where policy is made."

She made the comment in response to a question from a student on the differences between working at the federal appeals court as opposed to the district court. The New York judge said that traditionally, those interested in academia, policy, and public interest law tend to seek appeals court clerkships.

"All of the legal defense funds out there, they're looking for people with Court of Appeals experience. Because it is - Court of Appeals is where policy is made," she said. "And I know, and I know, that this is on tape, and I should never say that. Because we don't 'make law,' I know. [Laughter from audience] Okay, I know. I know. I'm not promoting it, and I'm not advocating it. I'm, you know. [More laughter] Having said that, the Court of Appeals is where, before the Supreme Court makes the final decision, the law is percolating. Its interpretation, its application."

Conservative activists have a long criticized so-called "judicial activists," who use their position on bench to make public policy. President Obama, in announcing his pick Tuesday morning, said that one of the reasons he selected Sotomayor was her "understanding that a judge's job is to interpret, not make law."

- CNN's Martina Stewart contributed to this report.

Filed under: Sonia Sotomayor • Supreme Court
soundoff (47 Responses)
  1. Just My Opinion in Texas

    Judges are NOT to make the law ... PERIOD! THAT is the perview of the Legislative branch of the government.

    If this woman is willing to say (and not for 1 minute do I believe she would say something she didn't ACTUALLY believe!) and believe something like this ... then she has no business on the Supreme Court.

    May 26, 2009 10:50 am at 10:50 am |
  2. Mississippi Mike

    Here is a huge fundamental rift between liberals and conservatives: the nature of the Constitution and application of laws. Conservatives believe that the Constitution should be taken literally and that laws should be applied to everyone without regard for their circumstance. Liberals believe that the Constitution is a "living, breathing document" and that laws are to be interpreted in the context of the political, social and personal climate. The job of the Supreme Court is to enterpret the law, not tailor it to each situation. Sotomayor is a bad pick based on her record and comments.

    May 26, 2009 10:52 am at 10:52 am |
  3. Bingo

    Admittedly, I am just the product of a southeastern US public school system, but I seem to recall for my junior high school and high school civics classes that the role of the judiciary is to interpret and apply the law, not to make policy. I would have thought that a nominee for the Supreme Court had a better understanding of the Constitutional authority of the judiciary.

    May 26, 2009 10:52 am at 10:52 am |
  4. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA

    She clearly knows what she's talking about and knows that the job requires interpretation of the law. Simple as that.

    May 26, 2009 10:53 am at 10:53 am |
  5. curlyq31

    I believe she is a very intelligent choice. I hope they'll confirm her and put a little more balance on the bench.

    May 26, 2009 10:54 am at 10:54 am |
  6. Jake

    She will serve our country well! the PERFECT PICK!

    May 26, 2009 10:56 am at 10:56 am |
  7. The Unshrub

    It doesn't matter who Obama picks because the republicans will try to find a way they can use this for their own political gain. They had their hand up to complain about her before Obama even made his pick.

    May 26, 2009 10:57 am at 10:57 am |
  8. Kevin in Ohio

    This is the very definition of what an "Activist" judge believes. Change the law, don't interpret it. This enfringes on the duties of the legislative branch of government. If confirmed, Sotomayor is but one more nail in our coffin.

    May 26, 2009 10:57 am at 10:57 am |
  9. Slider

    There is no doubt that Sotomayor is an activist and views the courts as such.

    The judiciary doesn't make policy. It enforces law created by the legislature.

    Justice is blind. It doesn't see rank, status, economic or sociological place.

    Too bad socialists like Obama can't see that this is one of the strengths of this country.

    May 26, 2009 10:57 am at 10:57 am |
  10. Steve - Connecticut

    I am sure there are no Conservative "Activist" justices on the Supreme Court. Only Liberal Judges are "Activist". Just ask any Right Wing Wag.

    May 26, 2009 10:57 am at 10:57 am |
  11. fools, fooled by obama

    another nail in the coffin of this once great nation..we will never survive with this clown as president.

    May 26, 2009 10:57 am at 10:57 am |
  12. K

    Oh please. This comment will not 'fuel opposition'. The opposition is already present and its fuel is hate. This comment - one comment out of how many? - will be the excuse of the bigots.

    May 26, 2009 11:01 am at 11:01 am |
  13. Mich

    once again CNN tries to stir up controversy against President Obama and his pick for the supreme court
    I dont watch CNN much anymore
    Your getting too much like fox too BIASED against the decisions President Obama makes
    Sorry you have a big chunk of the population that is not in your corner
    Your all becoming limbaugh robots, excluding Wolf Blitzer and Jack Cafferty who are always honest and fair!!

    May 26, 2009 11:05 am at 11:05 am |
  14. ye royal butler

    Sotomayor, nominated by George H.W. Bush in 1992 to the Federal Court bench. It wasn’t a problem then. There's nothing here to see..move along everyone.

    May 26, 2009 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  15. jacksonville

    I am pleased with President Obama's pick for high court. The choice was his and I do believe the Commander-In-Chief has made good and the right choices. We must support our President and not criticize. I was hoping for another choice but Sotomayor is the one and I support her. her and wishing her the very best.

    May 26, 2009 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  16. Florida Dude

    Nothing wrong with what she said. How many times are verdicts or opinions overturned or upheld in appeals. If the Supreme Court does not hear the case then that is it. Republicans want to find any reason to not appoint her. I think she is a great choice by President Obama.

    May 26, 2009 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  17. gary davis Harbor Oregon

    again President Obama ,make but another good choice .. cool 🙂

    as he and the administration moves the machine of repair forward ,we wake up each morning looking as if a light at the end of the tunnel is begining to show a glimmer of light and hope


    May 26, 2009 11:13 am at 11:13 am |
  18. Brian in AZ

    Even though she says she "knows" that the judiciary is not a cudgel with which unelected lawmakers sit and devise schemes to change society–she says that she "knows" this 5 times–she still insists that the appeals court makes policy...except of course when overruled by the supreme court.

    But that won't be an obstacle for her any more.

    May 26, 2009 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  19. gary davis Harbor Oregon

    I thought Texas and Alaska wanted out of the United States and be their own clicky little cult ?

    she will do a great job open and fair

    May 26, 2009 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  20. Alan

    She was comparing the trial court to the appellate court, and any law school graduate knows that all she did was explain the difference between the two.

    You can find fodder to oppose anyone if you look hard enough, and if the Repulicans want to insult the intelligence of the American people by pretending that what she said was anything out of the ordinary ... well... it won't be the first time.

    May 26, 2009 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  21. The Party of NO is only “pro-life” so they will be able to kill the “babies” 18 years later as soldiers in an elective religious war.

    From the tape it is obvious Sotomayor is joking.

    Not like when the shrub made his "joke" about looking for WMD under the table and lectern.

    At least no one died with Sotomayor's comments, the same cannot be said for bush's "joke".

    May 26, 2009 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  22. Kevin in Ohio

    She shows her true colors through this off-hand comment. She is not qualified to uphold the Constitution with beliefs like this.

    May 26, 2009 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  23. Party Purity will never bring Political Power!

    @Mississpi Mike

    You bible beater "christians" also think that tome of fables called the Bible should be taken literally as well.

    So what is your point?

    May 26, 2009 11:23 am at 11:23 am |
  24. cj

    Making the laws from the bench. Sounds like an Obama elitist. Remember your job is to defend the constitution, but you probably forgot what that is, lol

    May 26, 2009 11:23 am at 11:23 am |
  25. Only 21% of Americans trust republicans to lead them into the 21st century!

    Even Scarborough on "Morning Joe"(sorry CNN, but I only do the ticker now, your broadcasts have become Fox-Lite) said this would not be a bad pick. She is a "pull yourself up by the boot strap" kinda of woman and Daddy Bush is the one that nominated her to the Federal position in the first place.

    Not a bad pick and still is a stroke of political genius for President Obama, as the neo-cons cannot attack her or they alienate the largest growing minority in America, Hispanics.

    Of course, that whole "party purity" would be intact but the "pure" repub party would become increasingly smaller.

    Thank God!

    May 26, 2009 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
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