Sotomayor: “Dose Of Reality” On Criminal Law


Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s experience on the front lines in a big city’s fight against crime will bring a much-needed perspective to the Supreme Court, says Anthony Barkow, a former feereal prosecutor who now directs the Center on the Administration of Criminal Law at New York University School of Law. Writing on, Barkow notes that only Justice Samuel Alito has any real background at all in criminal law. He was an assistant U.S. attorney and was later U.S. attorney in New Jersey. Sotomayor would bring a much-needed dose of reality when it comes to criminal law issues, Barkow says. The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to approve her nomination next week.

“It is all too easy for someone who has not spent time working on these issues to caricature them,” he writes. “For conservatives, the risk is assuming all crimes are a failure of personal responsibility that lead to serious breaches of public order and demand incarceration and a tough response. For liberals, the risk is seeing every defendant as a victim of poverty or society’s failures. The reality, as Sotomayor knows well, is far more complicated. She has seen the human condition up close and personal. She knows the pain of victims and has looked into the eyes of defendants who have committed unspeakable acts with no remorse and are unredeemable. She has also seen defendants who need treatment and jobs, not prison. Many of these individuals may have committed petty crimes, such as shoplifting or drug possession, to feed an addiction.”

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