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Leftward Shift Years Away

As published in the June 15, 2009 Connecticut Law Tribune

Judge Sonia Sotomayor is hailed by many as a symbol of the American dream and the savior of America’s pastime. The ques­tion on our minds as we consider the new Supreme Court nominee is: how will her appointment to the bench affect our every­day lives?  The answer is we will not see a major change.

In 1994, the Major League Baseball Play­ers Association went on strike to protest a salary cap. In return, the team owners elim­inated certain benefits from the players’ contracts. No agreement could be reached and baseball came to a standstill for an en­tire season. In the meantime, both sides filed unfair labor practice charges against the other.

The case eventually came before U.S. District Court Judge Sotomayor, who found that the team owners had violated several labor laws and had failed to comply with the collective bargaining agreement. The court also issued an injunction against the team owners in the interest of protecting the player’s collective bargaining rights and the public interest in baseball.

Sotomayor’s decision left the team own­ers no choice but to concede to the players’ wishes and grant them a contract under the players’ terms. It was a win for players and fans, but a loss for management’s collective bargaining rights. Baseball returned for the 1995 season.

As a result of her decision, some put Sotomayor in the ranks of Joe DiMaggio, Jackie Robinson and Ted Williams. To be placed in a category with such baseball elite is certainly a compliment, but may be too high a pedestal. While she deserves praise for a quick and ef­ficient solution to the strike, her decision was a major blow to man­agement.  It is a reminder of her liberal leanings especially related to labor issues.

Will Sotomayor’s appointment to the bench upset the bal­ance of the court? With Souter, a liberal justice, being replaced by Sotomayor, another liberal, the answer is, probably not. Dur­ing Souter’s tenure on the court, he moved from the center to the left side of the bench. Historically, as justices sit on the bench, they become more liberal. It is rare that a liberal justice has shifted ide­ology so far to the right as to be considered a conservative.

At 55 years old, Sotomayor could possibly serve through four to six presidential terms. Four of the remaining Supreme Court Jus­tices are currently above the age of 70, and are nearing retirement. There is the distinct possibility that if President Barack Obama serves two terms in office, he could nomi­nate four more justices to the court. No president has made that many nominations since Dwight D. Eisenhower. President Obama, and whoever may he may ap­point to the court, will have a tremendous impact on the makeup of the Supreme Court.

Currently, a furor has arisen over Sotomayor’s comment that a Hispanic jus­tice might make bet­ter decisions than a white justice.  Is this comment and the re­sultant furor politics or the sign of big­otry?  Maybe both but you can decide.  The end result is So­tomayor is expected to receive confirma­tion from the Senate and become the first Hispanic to sit on the nation’s highest bench.

It is everyone’s hope that Sotomayor takes each case as it comes to her, consid­ers all the facts and makes her decisions in a fair and non-partisan way. If anyone was hoping for a change in the Supreme Court climate, you will have to wait for the next appointment. – and that result is likely to be a more liberal court.  A more conservative court is likely decades away.