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Sonia Sotomayor

by Alex Miller

sonia SotomayorThe controversy began even before the name was announced. When Associate Justice David Souter tendered his resignation from the US Supreme Court on May 1, 2009, Barack Obama stated that in choosing his successor, he would select a candidate "who understands that justice isn't about some abstract legal theory or footnote in a case book. It is also about how our laws affect the daily realities of people's lives. I view that quality of empathy, of understanding and identifying with people's hopes and struggles as an essential ingredient for arriving at just decisions and outcomes." The right wing went wild, for weeks decrying "empathy" as a useful quality in a judge, conveniently forgetting that when their president, George H. W. Bush, nominated Clarence Thomas for the SCOTUS in 1991, he described him as "a delightful and warm, intelligent person who has great empathy and a wonderful sense of humor. He's also a fiercely independent thinker with an excellent legal mind, who believes passionately in equal opportunity for all Americans," thus placing the quality of empathy higher on his list of qualifications than several traits more specifically pertaining to making judicial decisions.

This pattern of Republicans shooting themselves in the foot by making knee-jerk objections to the same statements from the new Democratic nominee which were previously made by Republican Justices, without quibble on the part of conservatives, continues throughout the confirmation process for Obama’s first Supreme Court nominee, Sonia Sotomayor. Sotomayor’s name drew fire early on when it first appeared on a short list of Obama’s potential picks, but with the announcement of her nomination on 26 May 2009, the opposition went into fever pitch, with powerless Republicans, in a crippling minority short one Senate filibuster option after the defection of Arlen Specter from the GOP, desperately trying to smear the choice in the court of public opinion. If confirmed, Sotomayor will be the first Hispanic and only the third woman to sit on the highest court in the land.

Born June 25, 1954, Sonia Sotomayor is the daughter of Puerto Rican immigrants Juan and Celina Sotomayor, and was raised in a housing project in The Bronx, New York. Her father, a tool-and-die worker who spoke no English, died when Sotomayor was nine, leaving her mother, a nurse, to raise her. She received an A.B. from Princeton in 1976, graduating summa cum laude, and earned her J.D. from Yale Law School in 1979, where she was editor of the Yale Law Review. She served as Assistant District Attorney from graduation until 1984, prosecuting felony cases including police brutality and child pornography. She entered private practice in 1984 with Pavia & Harcourt, specializing in intellectual property litigation.

She was first appointed to a federal court in 1992 by George H. W. Bush, serving as the youngest judge on the US District Court for the Southern District of New York. In that capacity she came to public notice predominantly via her preliminary injunction against Major League Baseball in 1995 which ended the 1994 baseball strike, a copyright infringement case against a book of trivia based on the popular Seinfeld TV series, and a ruling which allowed The Wall Street Journal to publish Vince Foster’s suicide note.

In 1997, Bill Clinton nominated her for elevation to the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, but although she easily passed the Senate Judiciary Committee with strong bipartisan support, a senator who remained anonymous put a hold on the nomination, delaying her confirmation for more than a year. Finally a petition drive organized by New York Hispanic organizations persuaded then Republican Senator Alfonse D’Amato to insist upon a floor vote, and Sotomayor was confirmed 2 October 1998, 67-29.

Her judicial rulings have been erratic in the sense that, as her initial appointment by one Republican president and later promotion by a Democrat would imply, she is not clearly conservative nor progressive. Her only ruling in the litmus-test area of abortion was in favor of the Bush Administration’s Mexico City Policy, which prevents foreign clinics receiving US federal aid from performing or promoting abortion as a means of family planning; Sotomayor contended that the federal government was within its rights in adding whatever restrictions it so desired to any foreign economic aid it dispensed. She dissented from the majority opinion in a First Amendment case which ruled valid the summary judgment dismissal of a case brought by a former NYPD employee, fired for mailing racist materials. Sotomayor wrote that the employee had a First Amendment right to promote his views on his own time, however offensive or insulting, and that therefore his case should have gone to trial.

Sotomayor concurred with colleagues in upholding New York State’s right to infringe upon Second Amendment rights on the grounds that the US Supreme Court had never ruled that the amendment applied to state government weapons restrictions, only to those of the federal government. On Fourth Amendment search and seizure issues, she dissented from the majority opinion which upheld strip searches of "troubled adolescent girls" in a Connecticut case, supporting their right to privacy, but rejected the appeal of an office worker whose computer had been searched by his employer, alleging "reasonable grounds for suspecting" the search would reveal "work-related misconduct."

On the issue of civil rights, Sotomayor upheld the right of individuals to sue private companies working on behalf of the federal government. On property rights she reversed a New York City policy which allowed police to impound and retain intoxicated drivers' vehicles throughout the period between arrest and trial, alleging undue hardship for individuals deprived of their mode of transportation while their cases were pending.

Arguably her most high-profile case is one which involves the New Haven, CT decision to throw out the results of a firefighter’s test wherein all minority candidates scored significantly lower than whites, and implement a new test which would not result in the "disparate impact" of the first test. White candidates who qualified for promotion under the old test results sued the city, and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s decision to back the city of New Haven, but without comment. Sotomayor concurred, also without comment.

This concurrence and statements made in a 2001 speech at the University of California, Berkeley, have led political opponents such as Rush Limbaugh and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich to charge Sotomayor with "reverse racism" since her nomination. Conservatives keyed on one small portion of her Berkeley speech, "I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life," ignoring the full context following, which makes it clear that Sotomayor had no racist intent in the remarks.

She went on to state,

"Let us not forget that wise men like Oliver Wendell Holmes and Justice Cardozo voted on cases which upheld both sex and race discrimination in our society. Until 1972, no Supreme Court case ever upheld the claim of a woman in a gender discrimination case. I, like Professor Carter, believe that we should not be so myopic as to believe that others of different experiences or backgrounds are incapable of understanding the values and needs of people from a different group. Many are so capable. As Judge Cedarbaum pointed out to me, nine white men on the Supreme Court in the past have done so on many occasions and on many issues including Brown [v Board of Education]. However, to understand takes time and effort, something that not all people are willing to give. For others, their experiences limit their ability to understand the experiences of others. Others simply do not care. Hence, one must accept the proposition that a difference there will be by the presence of women and people of color on the bench. Personal experiences affect the facts that judges choose to see. My hope is that I will take the good from my experiences and extrapolate them further into areas with which I am unfamiliar. I simply do not know exactly what that difference will be in my judging. But I accept there will be some based on my gender and my Latina heritage."

In full context, the remarks are less than controversial, and moreover, progressives were quickly able to point to very similar comments made by current Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, a Bush appointee, in his 2006 confirmation hearings:

"Senator, I tried to in my opening statement, I tried to provide a little picture of who I am as a human being and how my background and my experiences have shaped me and brought me to this point. ... And that's why I went into that in my opening statement. Because when a case comes before me involving, let's say, someone who is an immigrant—and we get an awful lot of immigration cases and naturalization cases—I can't help but think of my own ancestors, because it wasn't that long ago when they were in that position. [...] And that goes down the line. When I get a case about discrimination, I have to think about people in my own family who suffered discrimination because of their ethnic background or because of religion or because of gender. And I do take that into account."

Similarly, the charge that Sotomayor is an "activist judge" stems from comments made at Duke University in 2005, where she stated, in a speech given before video cameras, "Court of Appeals is where policy is made. And I know ... I know this is on tape and I should never say that, because we don't make law, I know.... I'm not promoting it, and I'm not advocating it.... Having said that, the Court of Appeals is where, before the Supreme Court makes the final decision, the law is percolating."

Contrast this to Reagan appointee Justice Antonin Scalia’s assertions when authoring the majority opinion in 2002's Supreme Court decision on Republican Party of Minnesota v White, which garnered nary a conservative whimper:

"This complete separation of the judiciary from the enterprise of ‘representative government’ might have some truth in those countries where judges neither make law themselves nor set aside the laws enacted by the legislature. It is not a true picture of the American system. Not only do state-court judges possess the power to 'make' common law, but they have the immense power to shape the States' constitutions as well."

Apparently, racism and judicial activism are in the eye of the political beholder.

Shortly after graduation from Princeton in 1976, Sotomayor married high school boyfriend Kevin Noonan; the couple divorced in 1983 and have no children. Sotomayor reverted to her maiden name and has been known by that name throughout her judicial career.

Born 25 June 1954, Sonia Sotomayor’s birth chart is rife with galactic energies. The Sun at 3 Cancer is conjunct a Black Hole at 4 Cancer and opposed another at 4 Capricorn, as well as squared a Quasar at 5 Libra and a Pulsar at 2 Aries. Black Hole Sun individuals can be quixotic and hard to pin down, as with Sotomayor’s across-the-board judicial rulings. They often gravitate to positions of power, but they are inscrutable and, while able to blend chameleon-like into their surroundings, can also be subject to excessive projection from others, the flip side of the Black Hole Sun’s adaptive ability to be all things to all people. The Quasar square suggests ultimate success and achievement, and a tendency to stand out in a crowd. Sotomayor’s path to preferment from presidents of both parties indicates this is an active energy in her life. The Pulsar contact often manifests as one who is a magnet for media attention, which is certainly about to be the case for Sotomayor.

The Sun is conjoined by Trans-Neptunian Object (TNO) Logos at 1 Cancer, indicating a deep, penetrating intelligence which seeks to make sense and order out of chaos, and elevates logic and reason above all else. Jupiter hovers nearby at 7 Cancer, ruling the judiciary, suggestive of her ultimate profession. Additionally, asteroid Sonja, variant of Sonia, at 12 Cancer is conjoined TNO Rhadamanthus at 10 Cancer, named for a mortal son of Zeus so noted for his inflexible integrity in life that he was made a Judge of the Dead after his demise. Sotomayor’s apparent non-adherence to any particular political philosophy would seem to square with this sense of integrity—not bound by any particular ideological bent, she calls cases as she sees them, rightly or wrongly, and is apparently unconcerned with the resulting political fall-out.

The Sun opposes Mars at 2 Capricorn, sign of a contentious fighter, and Sotomayor has been noted for a less than agreeable demeanor with colleagues. She can be strident and opinionated, stubborn, but not unapproachable; the combination of Logos and Mars suggests she likely does not suffer fools gladly.

The Sun squares both minor planet Eris at 8 Aries and asteroid Washingtonia at 8 Libra, which exactly oppose each other. Eris, named for the Greek goddess of Strife, indicates a fractious, quarrelsome nature, someone who presses others’ buttons and has the capacity to create a furor, attracting discord and contention. The square to Washingtonia suggests that the nation’s capitol will be of importance to her personally (something reinforced by the even tighter square to Washingtonia from Jupiter, identifying the courts as her area of impact), while the exact opposition between Eris and Washingtonia speaks volumes to the contentious nature of the nomination, which has aroused such stolid conservative resistance.

Mercury at 18 Cancer conjoins Uranus at 22 Cancer, and both oppose the Black Hole at 19 Capricorn, the source of her erratic and unpredictable (Uranus) decisions (Mercury). The Black Hole opposition indicates a deep, creative thinker, one capable of envisioning, not just the way things are, but the ways they might become. But it also suggests a propensity for dissent, something noted in Sotomayor’s career, or reversal, perhaps of judicial rulings, either her own or others’ which come under her review. Natal Mercury is also retrograde, indicative of an introspective bent, one who considers and reconsiders a problem from every angle. These contacts suggest that Sotomayor’s pattern of unpredictability on the bench will continue, and she may well not perform as expected.

Venus at 9 Leo is exactly conjunct a Black Hole, which indicates difficulties in relationship, and a likelihood of break-down or disintegration of romantic alliances, as supported in Sotomayor’s biography by her failed marriage. There could be economic issues as well, and possibly some sexual skeletons in the closet. Venus’ conjunction with asteroid Child at 11 Leo suggests that Sotomayor would be an affectionate mother, but minor planet Haumea at 24 Leo, named for the Hawaiian goddess of childbirth, in conjunction with Pluto at 23 Leo, both in the sign ruling children and squared the 24 Taurus Black Hole, indicates that motherhood was not to be.

Saturn at 2 Scorpio retrograde is tightly trine the Sun, suggesting a smooth career path, and is exactly conjunct asteroid Justitia, named for the Roman goddess of Justice, certainly apt for Sotomayor’s career on the federal bench. Saturn is also conjunct a Quasar at 4 Scorpio and exactly squared a Black Hole at 2 Leo, indicative of pronounced success and a career path riddled with unexpected twists and turns, and sudden, unexpected or unlikely preferment.

Asteroid Themis at 13 Sagittarius, named for the Greek goddess of Justice, forms a Grand Trine with Eris at 8 Aries and Venus at 9 Leo, identifying Sotomayor as a female (Venus) judge (Themis) who attracts contention and controversy (Eris).

Sotomayor's nomination

When Barack Obama announced her nomination at 10:15 AM EDT, May 26, 2009 in Washington DC, Venus and Eris conjoined at 20 and 21 Aries, both conjunct the 22 Aries Midheaven, further welding that dynamic of femininity and contentiousness, and, with Mars nearby at 26 Aries, indicating the highly public (Midheaven) battle to come.

Jupiter, Chiron, Neptune and asteroid Pandora formed an extremely rare quadruple conjunction at 26 Aquarius, all exactly atop the USA Moon. This highlights the judiciary (Jupiter), and also the quality of empathy (Neptune) which Obama previously stressed as vital to his choice, but further indicates a potential wound (Chiron) to the administration from this pick, and the unleashing of unexpected consequences (Pandora) which could strongly impact the populace of the US (its Moon), and women (Moon also) in particular. Chiron/Jupiter also depicts her record as a judicial maverick, as does a pairing of Mercury at 23 Taurus and asteroid Sphinx conjunct the Black Hole at 24 Taurus, both squared the Aquarium stellium, which describes her inscrutable (Sphinx) pattern of rulings and decisions (Mercury).

The Sun at 5 Gemini conjoins a volatile, controversy-provoking Maser at 7 Gemini, and is itself intercepted by sign, perhaps suggestive of difficulties with confirmation, or of Sotomayor’s nomination becoming somehow "lost" or sequestered. The Moon at 4 Cancer had just conjoined Sotomayor’s natal Sun at 3 Cancer, and falls exactly on the Black Hole there, revealing her precedent-breaking status as the first Supreme Court Justice of Hispanic descent. Saturn at 14 Virgo was tightly squared her natal Themis at 13 Sagittarius, indicating her career (Saturn) advancement to the position of Justice (Themis).

Pluto at 2 Capricorn retrograde was an exact match for her natal Mars and closely opposed the natal Sun at 3 Cancer, prefiguring the confirmation battle to ensue, as well as the augmentation of her personal (Sun) power (Pluto) should she be confirmed. Asteroids Themis and Sonja were closely conjunct at 12 and 13 Scorpio, combining Justice and Sotomayor’s first name, with Themis’ Roman counterpart Justitia close by at 5 Scorpio, exactly conjunct an achievement-oriented Quasar and conjoined Sotomayor’s natal career-ruling Saturn at 2 Scorpio. Asteroid Washingtonia at 9 Leo was exactly conjunct Sotomayor’s natal Venus, blending women’s issues and the nation’s capitol, both within orb of the 4 Leo Ascendant.

Within days, the controversies over her speeches at Berkeley and Duke universities had made big news, and interestingly, there are asteroids named for both institutions. Asteroid Berkeley (which is also conjoined divisive Eris in Sotomayor’s birth chart) at 29 Libra is exactly conjunct a Black Hole and conjoined Sotomayor’s natal Saturn, while asteroid Duke (conjunct Sotomayor’s natal Sun in her birth chart) at 16 Leo was exactly squared the 16 Taurus Black Hole, both positions indicative of the energy drain and potential for unexpected reversal which Black Hole contacts provide. When Sotomayor made her speech at Berkeley on 26 October 2001, asteroid Sonja was exactly conjunct asteroid Nemesis at 23 Virgo, an apt image of the effect that speech may have on her confirmation process. At the time of her Duke University speech on 25 February 2005, asteroid Sonja appeared at 14 Virgo, transit Saturn’s exact degree when her nomination was announced, with the 6 Pisces Sun of that speech exactly conjunct disruptive Uranus, rash Icarus and ill-fated, tragedy-unleashing Pandora.

Will Sotomayor’s nomination succeed? Her confirmation hearings are expected in July or August, and both July eclipses impact her strongly. The Lunar Eclipse of 7 July at 15 Capricorn straddles her Nodal Axis at 14 Capricorn/Cancer, determining her destiny, and opposed her natal Mercury at 18 Cancer, bringing her prior writings, rulings, speeches and decisions into prominence. The subsequent Solar Eclipse of 21 July at 29 Cancer conjoins a Black Hole and squares Sotomayor’s natal Saturn at 2 Scorpio, focusing energies on her career. Additionally, the Saturn/Quasar conjunction in her birth chart, allied with a favorable political situation in Washington, suggests that her nomination will succeed, barring any further revelations during the confirmation process. But will she perform on the Supreme Court as Obama expects? That is indeed an open question.

Alex Miller, photoAlex Miller is a professional writer and astrologer, author of The Black Hole Book and The Urban Wicca, former editor of "The Galactic Calendar," and past president of The Philadelphia Astrological Society.

His pioneering work with Black Holes in astrological interpretation began in 1991, when his progressed Sun unwittingly fell into one. Alex can be reached for comment or services at