Senate Republicans question Sotomayor's views on racial bias

Chris Rizo Jul. 4, 2009, 8:48pm

Sonia Sotomayor

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline)-Republicans on Capitol Hill say they are wondering what role U.S. Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor played in lawsuits filed by a Latino legal advocacy group when she sat on the group's board.

Sotomayor sat on the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund's board from 1980 until 1992. She left the board to become a judge in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

She was nominated by President Barack Obama in May to fill the vacancy being left by retiring Associate Justice David Souter.

During the time Sotomayor sat on the PRLDEF board, the organization sued over such controversial legal issues as affirmative action and redistricting.

Papers released this week by the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is preparing for Sotomayor's confirmation hearings, indicated that PRLDEF filed racial bias lawsuits over employment examinations similar to a Connecticut lawsuit in which she ruled against a group of white firefighters in New Haven.

In one case, the organization, now known as LatinoJustice PRLDEF, represented Hispanic sanitation workers in New York City who wanted to stop white employees from getting promotions because the promotion examination disadvantage minorities, they claimed.

The case and others have drawn the attention of Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee, who say they want to know more about Sotomayor's views on racial bias when her confirmation hearings begin July 13.

Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the senior Republican on the committee, said this week that the PRLDF has taken "extreme positions" in the past.

Democrats, however, have called the civil rights group mainstream.

"This well-respected civil rights advocacy organization has cooperated and made an extensive effort to review decades-old records, most of which have no connection to Judge Sotomayor, to provide even more information to the committee," said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.

Sotomayor is currently a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit. In 1997, Democratic President Bill Clinton nominated her to the U.S. appeals court post she holds.

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at

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