Sotomayor: Threat to judicial independence is unprecedented as judicial philosophies are politicized

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Justice Sonia Sotomayor

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor said Wednesday political parties are simplifying judicial philosophies and turning them into “slogans” that threaten judicial independence.

Law360, Law.com and Bloomberg Law have coverage of Sotomayor’s remarks, made during an online conversation on the topic of judicial independence with Trevor Morrison, dean of the New York University School of Law.

“I think for the first time in our history, the mantle of judicial philosophy has become tightly interwoven with political parties,” Sotomayor said, according to Law360. “For almost all of our history, political parties debated what was the best way to govern. … Now, political platforms have adopted the language of judicial doctrines as a way to control outcomes in cases.”

The political players boil down the debate to “slogans” that leave out nuances, she said.

Sotomayor also expressed concern about politicized hearings on Supreme Court nominees that could undermine the court, according to Law.com.

“As norms in the nomination process are broken, as more senators, local politicians and media question the legitimacy of the court, many of them heap scorn on the court. The threat [to judicial independence] is greater and unprecedented than at any time in our history,” she said.

Sotomayor noted reports that federal appeals courts are increasingly granting en banc reviews, according to Law.com.

“Many think it has to do with the partisan nature of the appointment process,” she said. “I hope not, but it does feed into the public’s uncertainty about judicial independence and that has a price.”

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