Sotomayor defends unsigned opinions in big cases

Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor explained her reasons for issuing several controversial opinions in the form of short, unsigned opinions, a source of concern for several senators.
 
“About 75 percent of circuit court decisions are decided by summary order, in part because we can’t handle the volume of our work if we were writing long decisions in every case," she said. "But more importantly, not every case requires a long opinion when a district court opinion has been clear and thorough on an issue.”
 
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Sotomayor delivered her explanation as a group of firefighters from New Haven, Conn., looked on. Sotomayor delivered one of her most controversial decisions in Ricci v. DeStefano, which rejected a racial-bias claim by the firefighters in a short, unsigned summary order.
 
Several Republicans and legal experts have criticized Sotomayor for ruling on such an important case without providing a signed justification or analysis. The Supreme Court later took up the case and overruled Sotomayor in a 5-4 decision.
 
Sotomayor delivered another controversial ruling on gun owners’ rights in an unsigned opinion in Maloney v. Rice. That unsigned decision held that the Second Amendment does not apply to state and local governments.
 
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) pressed Sotomayor on her use of unsigned opinions. Some critics have charged that Sotomayor used unsigned opinions to distance herself from controversial decisions.
 
Sotomayor noted that in the firefighters’ case, a district court published a thorough opinion, 78 pages long, in rejecting their lawsuit.
 
“It adequately explained the questions that the Supreme Court addressed and reviewed,” she said.
 
Sotomayor said she did not try to use any stealth in quashing the firefighters’ complaint.
 
“It’s not a question of hiding it from others,” she said.
 
Sotomayor noted that the plaintiffs had an opportunity to petition for a rehearing by the entire 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals as well as a chance to request review by the Supreme Court.
 
Cornyn also questioned Sotomayor about her famous comments suggesting a “wise Latina” has better judgment than a white male and how the nominee’s personal views and background experiences would affect her judgments.
 
As she did when faced with similar questions Tuesday, Sotomayor assured Cornyn that she would follow the law from the bench.
 
But Cornyn indicated that his concerns would not spur him to attempt to block Sotomayor’s nomination. He predicted that she would receive an “up-or-down vote” on the Senate floor.