Justice Sonia Sotomayor, appointed to the Supreme Court eight and a half years ago by former President Barack Obama, was treated by paramedics at her home, on the morning of Friday, January 19, for symptoms brought on by low blood sugar.
She was not hospitalized, and after the treatment she went to the Supreme Court and went about her usual work day.
Back in October the website Axios reported, on the basis of an unnamed source, that in conversation, President Trump had indicated he believed Sotomayor would have to leave office during his first term as President, allowing him to fill that seat. Trump allegedly cited her diabetes (Type 1) as the reason for that view.
This health scare, brief as it was, is sure to stimulate more such guesswork. But of course guesswork about the next vacancies and what they mean for the partisan/ideological balance on the high court is a mainstay of reporting on said court.
And although Sotomayor’s years on the court have still been relatively few, she has put her name to a number of significant opinions. In JDB v. North Carolina she wrote, for the court, an important explanation of the application of the Miranda warnings to the context of the juvenile justice system.
Her opinion in US v. Jones, a concurrence in a fourth amendment case, has been very influential in its call for her colleagues to “reconsider the premise that an individual has no reasonable expectation of privacy in information voluntarily disclosed to third parties.”
Utah v. Strieff, her dissent in a decision about police stops, is remarkable in the vigor of its arguments against deciding what constitutes a “reasonable search” with the help of hindsight. The key point, Sotomayor argued, is always what the searchers knew at the time of the search or the stop.
Left Wing View
The view of the left toward the Sotomayor health scare Friday was simple, although it has to be said in two parts. First, there was the sigh of relief that the incident was not more serious than it was. Second, there was the use of this incident as one of many reasons why “we” (said left) have to swing some seats in the Senate in November of this year. The Senate has the power to block POTUS should his appointment to replace Sotomayor – or whomever else might have a reason to retire in the remainder of this Presidential term – be horribly unqualified.
Right Wing View
Well … Sotomayor was Obama’s first appointee. What would one expect the right wing view of her jurisprudence to be? One would in large part be right.
Still, jurisprudence does not translate directly into politics, or vice versa, and sometimes the failures of that translation can be fascinating. For example, in an oral argument held on Tuesday, January 9, Sotomayor in effect teamed up with Justice Neil Gorsuch to pursue a common line of questioning concerning … again, the fourth amendment and the reasonable expectation of privacy.
This case involved the authority of police officers to search a vehicle within a garage next to a home. Law enforcement argued that there has long been an “automobile exception” lessening the vigor of the fourth amendment for cars as distinct from homes because (to simplify a bit) it’s so easy to leave the scene and the jurisdiction with a car. Gorsuch said that it wasn’t obvious that this exception applies to a car sitting inside a garage. He said maybe “we should just go ahead and do the same thing [create a fourth amendment exception] for drugs and papers too.” After all, papers can easily be shredded; drugs can be flushed down a toilet. But when each is sitting quietly inside a home it is protected by the fourth. Why not the car in the garage?
Sotomayor picked up on this, asking the attorneys for the State of Virginia to admit that, “if there is no real distinction, as Justice Gorsuch suggested, you’re asking us to expand the automobile exception dramatically…?”
It isn’t clear yet how this case will be decided, but it the argument suggested that Gorsuch and Sotomayor will be on the same side this time.