New York Times asks Dworkin to pose questions he'd like Judge Sotomayor to answer in confirmation hearings

Ronald Dworkin, Frank Henry Sommer Professor of Law, is one of several of the nation’s leading legal experts asked by the New York Times to pose questions they would like to hear Supreme Court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor answer in her confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which began on July 13.

Dworkin is renowned for his scholarship asserting that judges must interpret – rather than simply apply – past legal decisions, resulting in a general theory of what interpretation is and why one interpretation is better than another. His first question focused on this area.

“The last two nominees told the Judiciary Committee that they could decide difficult constitutional cases just by applying the law,” Dworkin wrote. “Critics say this is silly: often the text and history of crucial constitutional clauses and the court’s past decisions aren’t decisive either way, so that judges can interpret those clauses only by asking which reading, in their opinion, is best. They must finally rely on their own political convictions in making that judgment. Do you agree with these critics?”

Dworkin also referred to Ricci v. DeStefano, a 5-4 decision in which the Supreme Court ruled in June that white firefighters in New Haven, Connecticut, were unfairly denied promotions because of their race, reversing a decision of a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit that included Judge Sotomayor.

“You have been criticized for your vote in the New Haven firefighters case,” he wrote. “The case raised the crucial question of whether a city or state can use race-sensitive policies, short of quotas, to reduce racial inequality and tension.  Do you see any moral or constitutional objection, in principle, to such policies?”

Posted on July 13, 2009