Law professors, local and nationwide, back Sotomayor

BY AMY MATTSON | JULY 17, 2009 7:15 AM

Law professors across the country drew their pens (or logged on to their computers) last week in defense of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, and some UI faculty members were eager to add their marks.

Twenty-one UI law professors signed a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy on July 9, supporting the appellate justice. They joined a national initiative created by the nonprofit Alliance for Justice.

The correspondence urged Sotomayor’s “speedy confirmation” to the U.S. Supreme Court and expressed confidence in her character and skill. President Obama nominated Sotomayor — born in the Bronx to Puerto Rican parents — to the court last month. She became the first Latina in U.S. history to be nominated.

John Whiston, a UI clinical professor of law, put his name on the missive in hopes of reaching Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, a Judiciary Committee member.

“I wanted to let him know that people in Iowa are paying attention to the nomination,” Whiston said.
Grassley grilled Sotomayor in the Senate hearings Wednesday, asking her, “Isn’t justice supposed to be blind?”

Sotomayor’s opponents have locked onto the case of Frank Ricci, one of 18 New Haven, Conn., firefighters whose reverse-discrimination lawsuit drew accusations of Sotomayor using ethnic bias in her ruling.

But that didn’t sway UI law Professor Adrien Wing, who attended Princeton University with Sotomayor in the 1970s.

“I can’t imagine that she wouldn’t be confirmed,” said Wing, who was among the letter’s signers. “She is the best qualified candidate for the court.”

At least two professors said they were hesitant about signing the letter, saying public-school professors should refrain from displaying personal bias. Others, such as Nancy Hauserman, a UI business professor with an appointment in the College of Law, said they weren’t worried about putting their names on the pro-Sotomayor letter.

“Professors have opinions, and students know that,” she said. “It’s less about keeping them a secret and more about not forcing students to adopt them.”

Hauserman said the fear of displaying partisanship was likely not a deterring factor for those who did not sign, however. Faculty receive a large volume of e-mails every day, and some Sotomayor supporters may have simply lacked the time to reply, she said.

“This is a very free environment,” Hauserman said. “I think most people here are comfortable expressing their opinion.”

Professors from 49 states signed the letter. Alaska — the only state not represented — does not have a law school.

As the hearings continue, Sotomayor’s supporters will likely not be disappointed. Because the Senate has a Democratic majority, her confirmation seems virtually ensured, faculty members said.

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