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MU Expert Says Supreme Court Nominee May Move Court Toward More Moderate Opinions

Sotomayor may have unique sensitivities

May 27, 2009

Story Contact:  Jeffrey Beeson, 573-88-9144,
Richard Reuben, 573-639-2260,

COLUMBIA, Mo. - President Barack Obama's U.S. Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor is a moderate liberal who is unlikely to change the court's philosophical makeup says a University of Missouri expert. But Richard Reuben, an MU School of Law professor and U.S Supreme Court specialist, says Obama's pick may still have a significant impact on the Supreme Court.

 "Judge Sotomayor is a liberal centrist who may be influential in helping Justice Kennedy, a conservative centrist and often the swing vote on the court's closest issues, see things from a different perspective," said Reuben, the James Lewis Parker Professor of Law at MU. "Kennedy cares deeply about the impact of the court's work on people's lives, and seeing this perspective may move Justice Kennedy in particular cases, not necessarily away from the conservative majority, but toward more moderate opinions."

 Although it is still a little early to see how the U.S. Senate will react to Obama's nomination, Reuben says Sotomayor's long record of judicial decisions and other writings will provide conservative interest groups plenty of material to work with if they choose to aggressively oppose the nomination. In addition, as the first Hispanic appointment and a woman, Sotomayor can expect much media attention during the Senate Judiciary Committee meetings. 

 Reuben thinks that as a woman, Sotomayor may have unique sensitivities that her male counterparts may not have on issues such as strip searches, the conditions under which children can be compelled to testify and abortion.

 "As a member of a racial minority, Sotomayor knows first hand of the real-world challenges that minorities face in American society," Reuben said. "While Justice Clarence Thomas also speaks from a minority perspective, he is far more conservative than Sotomayor, and I suspect this difference will be reflected in their views in particular cases."

Reuben joined the MU School of Law in 2000, coming from Harvard Law School, where he was a Hewlett Senior Fellow in dispute resolution. He earned his masters and juris doctorate at Stanford School of Law. Reuben covered the U.S. Supreme Court for the American Bar Association Journal, the Los Angeles and San Francisco Daily Journals and other publications for more than a decade.