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Sotomayor: A Liberal Record _ but Not Entirely So

Sotomayor's rulings often favor civil rights claims, prosecutors over defendants


President Barack Obama looks on as his Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor speaks in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday May 26, 2009. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais )

In more than 16 years as a federal judge, Sonia Sotomayor has often sided with people claiming discrimination in education and employment. She's backed police and prosecutors over defendants. She's upheld assertions of free speech and religion.

Not easily pigeonholed, Sotomayor has also been part of rulings that go the other way.

In general, her rulings as a trial judge for six years and then as an appeals court judge since 1998 are in line with the liberal-leaning views of Justice David Souter, the man President Barack Obama has nominated her to replace.

Sotomayor's record indicates that her confirmation would not seriously alter the balance of power on a court that often splits along conservative and liberal lines on social issues.

Her opinions are clearly written and thorough, although she does not write with much flair. Sotomayor has been criticized by some conservatives for saying in a talk at Duke University that appeals court judges make policy, but her writings typically do not stray from the law.

Among the most contentious social issues is abortion, but Sotomayor has not been part of any major rulings on abortion rights. In 2002, she wrote an opinion ruling against an abortion rights group that had challenged a government policy prohibiting foreign organizations receiving U.S. funds from performing or supporting abortions.

In her opinion on the so-called gag rule, Sotomayor wrote that the government was free to favor the anti-abortion position when public funds were involved. President Barack Obama lifted the rule soon after he took office in January.

Abortion opponents reacted strongly against Sotomayor's nomination Tuesday. Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life, called Sotomayor "a radical pick that divides America."

The most controversial civil rights lawsuit of her time as a judge concerns the race discrimination claims of white firefighters in New Haven, Conn., a case the Supreme Court will decide in the next month.

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