Sotomayor a “Reliable Liberal Vote” on the Court

The LA Times reports:

The early returns are in, and Justice Sonia Sotomayor is proving herself to be a reliable liberal vote on the Supreme Court.

Cases this year on campaign speech, religion, juvenile crime, federal power and Miranda warnings resulted in an ideological split among the justices, and on every occasion, Sotomayor joined the liberal bloc.

“There was some anxiety among liberals last year that she would be to the right of Justice [David] Souter, especially on criminal law, but so far that has not been borne out,” Cornell University law professor Michael Dorf said of Sotomayor and her predecessor. “She is clearly part of the liberal wing.”

I don’t think this is all that surprising.  I don’t believe there was ever much reason to think that Justice Sotomayor would be to the “right” of Justice Souter.  Her experience as a prosecutor and trial judge is likely to inform her view of what occurs at the trial court level, but I don’t think such experience will necessarily make a nominee more “conservative” on criminal justice issues.  As I wrote before (see here and here), those areas in which they are most likely to differ do not divide the Court along traditional right-left lines.  In addition, there are other areas (such as punitive damages) where Justice Sotomayor could easily be to Justice Souter’s left.  But these are only “early returns” and it is too soon to tell.  We won’t have a clear picture of Justice Sotomayor’s jurisproduce for quite some time, and (like her predecessor) her approach to certain issues may evolve over time.

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