Of the thousands of cases decided by Judge Sonia Sotomayor, the one that could have the most influence on her confirmation for the Supreme Court involves the defense of New York City Police Department employee who was fired for distributing bigoted and racist material.
Sotomayor’s opinion in the 2002 case of Pappas v. Giuliani does not seem like a judicial cause célèbre for progressives. But in the days since she was named Obama Supreme Court nominee, it has emerged as an effective counterweight to charges that she is a judicial activist bent on helping minorities like herself.
Those intimately involved in the case say that Sotomayor’s dissent — in which she defended the First Amendment rights of a employee who had distributed white supremacist material — shows a type of jurisprudence diametrically at odds with the caricature painted by her conservative critics.
“It showed that she is not knee jerk when it comes to dealing with racial issues,” said Chris Dunn, an attorney for the New York Civil Liberties Union who argued the defense. “That was the case in which she took the side of a person obviously engaging in racist conduct and recognized the important First Amendment interest that was represented. She respected that interest and stuck to it.”