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Supreme Birthdays

The justices of the U.S. Supreme Court may take a little time in between handing down a string of blockbuster rulings this week  — on same-sex marriage, voting rights, affirmative action, workplace harassment and genetic drug liability, just to name a few — to have some cake and sing “Happy Birthday.”

Two justices celebrate birthdays this week. Justice Clarence Thomas turned 65 Sunday, and Justice Sonia M. Sotomayor will celebrate her 59th birthday Tuesday.

Sotomayor: Justice about town

While most Supreme Court justices are known to be private, even reclusive in some cases, Justice Sonia M. Sotomayor is taking a different path. Since coming to Washington in 2009, Sotomayor has become “the hippest member of the bench,” according to the Washingtonian.

The magazine points to several bits of evidence that the justice has gone from Sonia from the Bronx to the belle of the District:

Instead of settling in the suburbs of D.C. or the solitude of the Watergate in Washington like some of her colleagues, Sotomayor rented a pad in Cleveland Park before buying a condo in the U Street corridor – one of city’s hippest neighborhoods. (A DC Dicta spy recently spotted the court’s first Latina justice strolling along 14th Street, sans entourage.)

In her free time she’s been seen salsa dancing or partying with chef José Andrés at his Penn Quarter eatery Jaleo. She hangs with the likes of Eva Longoria, J.Lo and Oprah. She’s a hit with the kids, appearing on Sesame Street twice. Vice President Joe Biden even rearranged his own schedule so that Sotomayor could fit his swearing-in ceremony around her book-signing appearances.

“She’s breaking the mold and lighting it on fire,” SCOTUSblog’s Tom Goldstein told the magazine.

 

 

Sotomayor: Same-sex marriage decisions will be a ‘turning point’ for gays

Justice Sonia M. Sotomayor  — or “Sonia from the Bronx,” as she likes to be called — said the U.S. Supreme Court’s rulings on the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act will have an impact on gay Americans, regardless of how the court comes down.

The will be “a turning point for those whose lives will be changed, for better or for worse,” Sotomayor  said at an event Sunday in Cooper Union, a private college in Manhattan’s East Village, according to the Wall Street Journal. Decisions in those cases are expected just before the court wraps up its term at the end of June.

Sotomayor made it clear she wasn’t showing the court’s cards, though, adding: “just so you’re all clear, I’m not predicting anything.”

Latest SCOTUS accident: Breyer falls off bike, breaks shoulder

He may not quite be the Funniest Justice, but the argument can be made that Justice Stephen G. Breyer is the most accident-prone member o f the U.S. Supreme Court.

Breyer broke his shoulder Friday in a fall off of his bicycle near the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington – his second serious biking accident in the last two years and his third overall.  He’s recovering from reverse shoulder replacement surgery at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital and is expected to be released early this week, according to the Supreme Court’s Public Information Office.

In 2011, Breyer broke his collarbone while bicycling near his home in Cambridge, Mass. Back in 1993, Breyer interviewed with then-President Bill Clinton for a Supreme Court post while still recovering from broken ribs and a punctured lung suffered when he was hit by a car while bicycling in the Bay State. Clinton nominated Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg instead, but Breyer got the nod from Clinton a year later.

Breyer has also suffered other unrelated misfortunes recently, including being robbed at machete-point in the Caribbean and having his Georgetown home burglarized in 2012.

Breyer is not the only justice to suffer accidental injuries. Justice Sonia M. Sotomayor suffered a broken ankle after taking a spill at an airport during her Senate confirmation process in 2009. And in 2011, DC Dicta spotted Sotomayor limping into the courtroom during oral arguments, propping her leg on a footrest behind the bench and occasionally wincing in pain. The court’s press office later confirmed to DC Dicta that the justice “was experiencing some knee/ligament discomfort,” although no cause was provided.

More recently, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg fell at her home and suffered broken ribs last year. In 2009 Ginsburg suffered a bad reaction to medication and fell off her chair while aboard an airplane – a month after fainting in her chambers.

Shushing Sotomayor

Emotions – and tensions – ran high at the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday in a case asking whether a federal tribal law allows a biological father to regain custody of a child who had been legally adopted by a couple under state law.

To say it was a hot bench is an understatement. The justices frequently talked over one another and repeatedly interrupted the lawyers at the podium in an attempt to get their questions answered.

Things got so intense that one of the most vocal justices, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, was asked to be quiet by one of her colleagues – twice.

At one point when Sotomayor was rapidly firing questions at attorney Lisa Blatt, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. stopped her. “Could I hear her answer please?” Robert said to Sotomayor before allowing Blatt some time to talk.

Later, when Sotomayor interrupted attorney Paul Clement with her queries, Justice Antonin Scalia stopped her mid-sentence.

“Please finish,” Scalia then said to Clement. “Let’s finish.”

Alito and Sotomayor engage in a little cross-Hudson humor

The comedy duo of Scalia and Breyer may have some competition on the bench when it comes to tag-team humor. Yesterday during oral arguments in Peugh v. U.S., it was the Alito and Sotomayor Show.

“I’m told that [in] the Eastern District of New York now, only 30 percent of the defendants receive within- guidelines sentences,” Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. said, making the point about the steady increase in sentences outside of federal guidelines since the rules became advisory.

“You’re assuming that’s changed over time,” said Justice Sonia M. Sotomayor, drawing laughs (though not noted in the transcript) from folks in the room who were aware that the New York native was a prosecutor and 2nd Circuit appellate judge before she reached the high court.

Alito, a native New Jerseyan and former 3rd Circuit judge, gently jabbed at his colleague.

“Well, when I was on the court of appeals we thought it was our responsibility to ensure that the district courts were complying with the Sentencing Reform Act,” Alito said. “That might not have been true across the river, but…” More laughs.

Without missing a beat, Sotomayor shot back: “It wasn’t.” Laughter ensued on the bench and in the crowd.

Sotomayor scolds federal prosecutor for racially-charged questioning

If the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court deny cert in a particular case, it doesn’t mean they liked the behavior of the winning party in the proceeding below.

Justice Sonia M. Sotomayor made that clear in an opinion accompanying a cert denial Monday in the case Calhoun v. U.S. That case involves a remark made by a federal prosecutor while questioning the defendant: “You’ve got African-Americans, you’ve got Hispanics, you’ve got a bag full of money. Does that tell you—a light bulb doesn’t go off in your head and say, This is a drug deal?”

While not disagreeing with the Court’s decision not to grant the defendant certiorari on his claim that the racially charged question violated his constitutional rights, Sotomayor made clear what she thought of the prosecutor’s questioning, which she said “tapped a deep and sorry vein of racial prejudice that has run through the history of criminal justice in our Nation.”

The question “was pernicious in its attempt to substitute racial stereotype for evidence, and racial prejudice for reason,” Sotomayor said. “It is deeply disappointing to see a representative of the United States resort to this base tactic more than a decade into the 21st century.”

 

Sotomayor on getting over her ‘reflexive terror’

Becoming a Supreme Court justice is, no doubt, very cool. But it is also petrifying – at least in the beginning, admits Justice Sonia M. Sotomayor.

“The first year that I face the challenges of any new environment has always been a time of fevered insecurity, a reflexive terror that I’ll fall flat on my face,” Sotomayor told PBS’s Gwen Ifill Wednesday, according to a transcript from Federal News Service (a sister company to Lawyers USA).

How did she get over the insecurity? By working hard “with compulsive intensity and single-mindedness until I gradually feel more confident,” she said. And by taking the advice of those who had been there.

“We’re not born anything,” she explained. “We’re not born a lawyer; we’re not born a judge; we’re certainly not born a justice, which is something that Justice John Paul Stevens reminded me during my first year on the bench one day, when I was actually disclosing to him how anxiety-ridden I was about being a justice. And he just touched upon a reality for me. He said, Sonia, none of us is born a justice. We grow into becoming one.”

 

Sotomayor switches vote on courtroom cameras

It seems that Justice Sonia M. Sotomayor has joined the majority on an issue that has been before the U.S. Supreme Court for years.

While Sotomayor once said she’d had positive experiences with allowing cameras in the courtroom – a move strongly opposed by many of her colleagues on the bench – she now seems to be having second thoughts.

“I think the process could be more misleading than helpful,” Sotomayor said, speaking at a recent event in New York, according the New York magazine.  Folks trying to use oral arguments to glean how justices are leaning in a particular case will likely get it wrong, just based on the nature of how the Court works, she said.

“Every Supreme Court decision is rendered with a majority opinion that goes carefully through the analysis of the case and why the end result was reached,” she said. “Everyone fully explains their views. Looking at oral argument is not going to give you that explanation. Oral argument is the forum in which the judge plays devil’s advocate with lawyers.”

Sotomayor and the other justices return from their winter break to conference privately today, and oral arguments resume on Tuesday.

Sotomayor takes up case of the Funniest Justice

Justice Sonia M. Sotomayor’s book tour took her to Comedy Central’s “Colbert Report” yesterday, where she was asked whether she enjoys herself on the Supreme Court.

“Well, you know, some of my colleagues are pretty funny. So occasionally we do laugh,” Sotomayor told Stephen Colbert.

“Who’s the funniest?” Colbert asked.

Sotomayor declined to say which justice she personally thinks is the Court’s biggest side splitter.

“But do you know that there’s an article that actually measures the number of laughs?” Sotomayor said. “I’m pretty low on that scale.”

Actually, Justice, your four laughs so far this term ranks you right in the middle in the Funniest Justice standings. Shall we review?

Justice Antonin G. Scalia: 25

Justice Stephen G. Breyer: 19

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.: 7

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy: 6

Justice Sonia M. Sotomayor: 4

Justice Elena Kagan: 1

Justice Clarence Thomas: 1

Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr.: 1

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: 0

You can see Sotomayor’s full “Colbert Report” interview on the show’s website.

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