The Sotomayor Nomination: Here’s Hoping For Another Souter

Federal appeals court judge Sonia Sotomayor has been tapped by President Barack Obama for a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. If we’re lucky, she’ll be a justice much in the mold of the man she could replaceDavid H. Souter.

The high court remains deeply divided over issues related to church-state separation. One faction still respects what Thomas Jefferson called the “wall of separation” between church and state. Another favors a closer relationship between religion and government.

Souter was an articulate and powerful advocate for the separationist camp. He understood that both religion and government do best when both focus on their respective spheres of influence. He knew why government efforts to “help” religion usually do harm in the long run.

Where does Sotomayor stand on issues such as religion in public schools, government-run “faith-based” initiatives and state endorsement of religion? The fact is, we don’t know. Her church-state file is slim. Research by Americans United has turned up just a few cases, most of which are on the periphery of church and state or involve some type of extenuating circumstance.

We don’t have much of a track record to examine, and that’s why it’s important that the Senate Judiciary Committee step up to the plate and do its job. I’d like to see Sotomayor questioned about a range of church-state issues, and I want to know more about her basic judicial philosophy.

Pointed questions are the best way to get the answers we need. I’d begin with a simple one: Thomas Jefferson once said that the American people, through the First Amendment, had erected a wall of separation between church and state. Jefferson saw this wall as a good thing. Do you?

Judge Sotomayor’s personal journey is inspiring. She came up from modest circumstances and is no stranger to adversity. I hope that during the journey she has come to value the core values of our constitution, especially religious freedom and its protector, the church-state wall. If she has, I’m confident she’ll be a valuable addition to our highest court.

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