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Sonia Sotomayor on Government Reform


Barring felons from voting disqualifies race-based groups

In Hayden v. Pataki, 2006, the Second Circuit rejected a challenge under the Voting Rights Act to a New York law denying convicted felons the right to vote. The plaintiffs in the case had argued that in light of the long history of discrimination, both in society & in the NY criminal justice system specifically, the state's disqualification of felons constituted disqualification based on race. The majority reasoned that Congress did not intend the VRA to apply to state felon disenfranchisement laws.

Sotomayor dissented from the court's decision, opining that the VRA "applies to all voting qualifications," and--in her view--the state law "disqualifies a group of people from voting." She emphasized that "even if Congress had doubts about the wisdom of subjecting felony disenfranchisement laws to the results test, I trust that Congress would prefer to make any needed changes itself, rather than have courts do so for it."

Source:, "Civil Litigation" , Jul 25, 2009

The president can veto laws but not make them

If [a law says it's] authorized to let the president do something, then the president's acting at the height of his powers. If Congress has explicitly or implicitly prohibited something, then the president's acting at the lowest ebb of his powers. In all of the situations, once you've looked at what Congress has done or not done, you then are directed to look at what the president's powers may be under the Constitution minus whatever powers Congress has in that area.

That's the basic structure of our system of government. That's why the Congress makes the law. The president can veto them, but he can't make them. He can regulate, if Congress gives him the authority to do so and within other delegated authorities. I shouldn't use the word "delegated," because it has a legal meaning. But the point is that that question is always looked at in light of what Congress has said on the issue and in light of Congress's power, as specified in the Constitution.

Source: Confirmation Hearing, US Senate Judiciary Committee , Jul 14, 2009

Public campaign finance can fund based on opponent spending.

Justice Sotomayor joined the dissent on AZ FREEDOM CLUB PAC v. BENNETT on Jun 27, 2011:

An Arizona public campaign financing law allowed a person who agreed to the restrictions of a publicly financed campaign to receive an initial allotment from the state. That initial allotment was increased when the spending of a privately financed opponent together with the spending of any independent group exceeded that initial allotment. The public funds to match opponent expenditures topped out at two times the initial allotment.

HELD: Delivered by Roberts; joined by Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas & Alito

Arizona's public financing law places a burden on privately financed candidates. If privately financed candidates spend money above a certain level, they necessarily entitle their publicly financed opponents to greater funding. Their First Amendment right to free speech in a political matter--which includes spending money on their campaigns--is inhibited. Independent groups do not qualify for public financing at all, but their spending still may lead to a funding increase for the candidates the independent groups oppose. Leveling the playing is not a compelling state interest justifying a burden on a First Amendment right, nor is combating corruption. Arizona would be free to give the maximum amount to all public candidates, but that does not justify inhibiting the free speech of candidates and independent groups.

DISSENT: Kagan dissents; joined by Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor

The First Amendment's core purpose is to foster a political system full of robust discussion and debate. Arizona's public campaign finance did not restrict speech, it increased speech through public subsidy with the goal of decreasing the corruption of both quid pro quo campaign payments made in exchange for official acts or an office seeker feeling beholden to his great financial supporters. Any burden on free speech, the burden could hardly be more substantial than what the Court announces would be legal: a larger, up-front allotment to a public candida
Source: Supreme Court case 11-AZ-PAC argued on Mar 28, 2011

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Other Justices on Government Reform: Sonia Sotomayor on other issues:
Samuel Alito
Stephen Breyer
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Elena Kagan
Anthony Kennedy
John Roberts
Antonin Scalia
Sonia Sotomayor
Clarence Thomas

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Page last updated: Mar 08, 2014