Meriden health care leader recalls Sotomayor
By George Moore
MERIDEN - When Juan Figueroa started as president and general counsel of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund in 1993, a promising attorney named Sonia Sotomayor had just left the organization's board to take a new judicial position.
She had just been nominated by President George H.W. Bush to the District Court for the Southern District of New York. But that was not the last Figueroa would hear or see of her.
In 1997, he and other colleagues supported Sotomayor during the confirmation process for her appointment to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. President Bill Clinton had nominated her, but there was some resistance from Republicans in Congress. Eventually, she was confirmed.
Figueroa, now president of the Meriden-based Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut, has been watching as Sotomayor approaches an appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court. She awaits confirmation by the Senate after President Obama nominated her for the nation's highest court last month.
"I'm not surprised she's been nominated to the Supreme Court," Figueroa said Friday from his Pratt Street office. "From knowing her personally, this is an individual of utmost integrity who is extremely well qualified to be on the U.S. Supreme Court, and it's a bonus she happens to be a Latina."
Sotomayor brings a tremendous amount of experience and, more importantly, she follows the rule of law, said Figueroa, who is a lawyer himself. In addition to working as a judge for 16 years, Sotomayor served as assistant district attorney for New York for five years and has worked in private practice.
Some critics on the lookout for judicial activism have highlighted comments that Sotomayor made at a panel discussion at Duke University in 2005, in which she said the federal Court of Appeals is where "policy is made." But other observers point out that she quickly modified the statement.
"And I know this is on tape and I should never say that because we don't make law, I know," she said immediately after the statement. "I'm not promoting it and I'm not advocating it."
If appointed, Sotomayor, a Puerto Rican, would be the first Hispanic justice on the court. While her legal mind is the most essential factor in the nomination process, Figueroa said, her personal story and her ethnic heritage are also important.
The court system, he said, should reflect the society it serves. That is why there have already been significant efforts for gender and racial equality on the Supreme Court, he said.
"The law doesn't exist in a vacuum," he said. "It exists in relation to who we are as a people."
Sotomayor has a remarkable story of achievement: She dedicated herself to her education as she grew up in a Bronx housing project, the daughter of two working-class parents who had moved to the mainland from Puerto Rico. She secured scholarships to both Princeton and Yale universities, where she earned her undergraduate and law degrees.
Figueroa described Sotomayor as a "no-nonsense type of person" who is personable at the same time, a combination that would serve her well on the Supreme Court.
While Sotomayor has earned high praise for her legal work, she has had her share of controversy, especially in Connecticut. Sotomayor has ruled on two high-profile Connecticut cases that have stirred up debate.
In 2008, she sided against Avery Doninger, a Burlington high school student who was barred from student government because she called school officials derogatory names on her personal blog for canceling an event she had planned. Avery's mother sued, alleging First Amendment violations, but Sotomayor and two other judges ruled that the blog created a "foreseeable risk of substantial disruption" at the school, according to Education Week.
Connecticut blogger Andy Thibault, who writes about legal issues on The Cool Justice Report, has railed against Sotomayor's appointment to the Supreme Court for her ruling on the case. By siding against Doninger, he said, "she was refusing to enforce the Constitution," which protects free speech.
In an e-mail, Thibault said she has "stomped on the Bill of Rights" and that she should be considered carefully by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Connecticut Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman and Christopher J. Dodd have praised Sotomayor for her legal credentials. Lieberman said he is hoping for a bipartisan effort to ensure a fair hearing process.
In another 2008 appeal case, Sotomayor voted to uphold the right of the city of New Haven to toss out the results of a firefighters test because no minorities would have been promoted. White firefighters received good scores on the test, but the city feared litigation for not promoting minorities.
Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., has pointed to the case as one of many items that will need a thorough review during the confirmation process, USA Today reported.
By Andy Thibault
For Meriden Record-Journal
Whatever she is, Sotomayor is not a friend of the Bill of Rights. She has stomped on the right of citizens to petition the government for redressof grievances. It doesn't take an Einstein to figure out that any punishment by a government official in response to protected speech violates the First Amendment.
Beyond that, Sotomayor is also an abuser of parental rights. Since when do red-blooded Americans let moronic school bosses into the bedrooms of our children to police their Internet use?
Sotomayor is unfit for the bench at any level. If she likes government stooges so much, she should go work for the courts in Iran or China. Finally, Sen. Dodd and the Judiciary Committee should examine this case closely: Democrat or Republican, they won't like what they see.
Following is a Readers Digest version
of the Doninger case:
Avery Doninger, a volunteer in the Americorps national public service program, has a civil rights trial pending in New Haven U.S. District Court. [Among her duties on the job: helping hurricane victims in Texas.]
Avery, a 2008 graduate of Lewis Mills High School in Burlington, CT, and her mother, Lauren Doninger, sued Principal Karissa Niehoff and Superintendent Paula Schwartz [now retired] after they removed Avery from the ballot for class secretary.
Avery Doninger was among a group of four students who lobbied the community for support of an annual battle of the bands sponsored by the Student Council. The student council adviser suggested the students reach out to taxpayers and the students copied the adviser an on email to the community.
Schwartz became very upset after taxpayers called her and she cancelled the event known as Jamfest. Doninger subsequently referred to administrators in a live journal blog as central office douche bags, and Schwartz's son found the posting while trolling the internet for his mother a couple weeks later. While Avery Doninger was banned from school office, another student who called Schwartz a dirty whore was given an award and lauded for citizenship.
School officials suppressed the write-in vote in which Doninger was elected by a plurality. Schwartz refused to accept Doninger's apology for her choice of words. During an assembly, Niehoff banned free-speech and Team Avery t-shirts and seized at least one shirt.
The Doningers have been seeking -- among other remedies -- an apology for civil rights violations and recognition of the write-in victory.
New Haven U.S. District Judge Mark Kravitz denied a motion for a preliminary injunction [immediate relief] in August 2007. Based on errors in the record, Travesty Kravitz's injunction ruling was upheld by the U.S. Second Circuit in New York.
Travesty Kravitz held a hearing in November 2008 on Doninger's request for a trial. He cut off discussion about various frauds - including false testimony - upon the court and ultimately ordered a trial on Jan. 15, 2009. But, he limited the scope of the trial to the narrow issue of the suppression and seizure of free speech t-shirts.
Appeals are likely on a number of rulings narrowing the scope of the case.
On Jan. 22, 2009, Connecticut State Senator Gary LeBeau filed a landmark bill to protect student speech.
On Jan. 23, 2009, Travesty Kravitz scheduled jury selection and a trial for civil rights violations related to the suppression and seizure of free speech t-shirts. The trial is on hold now as all issues are back before the Second Circuit.