Why Judge Sotomayor and the Supreme Court Should Mean Something To You

As the U.S. Senate continues its final debate on the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor for the U.S. Supreme Court, it’s the perfect time to remember why this vetting process is so important for all of us to observe.

Judge Sotomayor has been in the news since she was named by President Barack Obama as his pick for the nation’s highest court this past May.

So why should all of us as Americans bother paying attention to this process and to this judge’s credentials, or to those of any candidate for the nation’s highest court? Why should it matter to us as individuals who is on the Supreme Court? Aren’t we insulated from the court and its actions so it doesn’t really affect us?

Actually, the court and its members have direct and profound  effects on us all through the decisions the court hands down. On every huge Constitutional and legal issue that faces us, the Supreme Court has ultimate review powers.  The Supreme Court has set legal boundaries on everything from abortion to gun ownership to the rights of individuals who have been arrested and accused of crimes.  The Supreme Court made the decision that validated President George W. Bush’s 2004 election win over Sen. Al Gore.  All of these decisions, and thousands more, affect us every day.

And that’s why we need to care and pay attention to who is next named to the Court.  It potentially could have made a difference for Vermont resident and musician Diana Levine, who in 2000 sought medical treatment in a hospital for migraines and severe vomiting.  She was intravenously given the anti-nausea drug, Phenergan, by a hospital staff member but complications led to the amputation of her right arm when the drug entered an artery.  She sued in state court in Vermont and won damages from the hospital and clinician, then sued Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, alleging that the warning labels on Phenergan were inadequate. The case ended up before the U.S. Supreme Court , which earlier this year ruled in her favor.  That’s exactly what they should have done, but the problem was that the Court ruled on very narrow legal grounds, with three of the court’s justices voting against Levine’s arguments.  Had just two more justices been swayed by the dissenting justices, it could have gone the other way.  And that’s why it ultimately matters who is serving on the highest court. Each member matters on a nine-member court.

We need to have a U.S. Supreme Court that is made up of members who see the Constitution as a living document in our times, and not just as old words on old paper dating back to the 1700s.  To do that, it’s critically important to have the right people on the court who won’t run roughshod over the rights of Americans in any case it hears. That is a critical protection for all of us if we ever end up in court fighting for our own rights.

Judge Sotomayor is that kind of person who will look out for us as individuals while balancing the Constitution in ways that this current court can’t seem to do consistently.  So whether you support Judge Sotomayor or oppose her nomination, now is a great time to read her statements, learn of her judicial philosophy and find out more about her as her nomination proceeds.  Every member of the Supreme Court should be seen as important to us all, whether we like them or not.  Their decisions affect our everyday lives profoundly.