By Jerry Markon
The Washington Post
A conservative group is criticizing Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor for signing a 1981 memo that opposed the death penalty and said “capital punishment is associated with evident racism in our society.”
The Manassas, Va.-based Judicial Confirmation Network today said the document, written when Sotomayor was on the board of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, offers a window into her thinking on the divisive issue of capital punishment.
The memo “provides an important data point to flesh out the picture of her that is emerging from her other writings, speeches and judicial opinions: a hard-left liberal judicial activist,” Wendy E. Long, the network’s counsel, wrote in a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Sotomayor was one of three board members of the Puerto Rican advocacy group to sign the memo, which recommended that the full board take a position opposing the restoration of the death penalty in New York State. Sotomayor served on the board from 1980 until she became a federal judge in New York in 1992.
“The death penalty is final; it eliminates all possibility of the reform of the offender,” the memo said, adding that capital punishment is disproportionately applied to minorities and the poor and is not an effective deterrent to crime.
Bill Burton, a White House spokesman, said Sotomayor’s “involvement with the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund and its position on the reinstatement of New York’s death penalty was fully disclosed to the Judiciary Committee.”
He added: “We will work diligently with the Senate to make sure that they have everything they need to confirm Judge Sotomayor swiftly and in time for her to participate in case selection at the Court this September.”
Cesar Perales, president of the legal defense fund, now called LatinoJustice PRLDEF, said Sotomayor’s critics are taking the memo out of context. He said it is a “fair reading” of the document to conclude that Sotomayor was anti-death penalty at the time, but he said the authors were only “recapitulating” arguments against capital punishment made by religious and civic groups.
Perales said the driving force behind the document was Joseph P. Fitzpatrick, a fellow board member and Jesuit priest who also signed it and is now deceased. He could not specify Sotomayor’s precise role.
The Supreme Court on which Sotomayor may serve has been increasingly divided over the death penalty in recent years. The justices last year upheld lethal injection, a method of execution used by nearly all states, but they have clashed over decisions rejecting the death penalty for child rapists and juveniles.
A White House spokeswoman did not return emails seeking comment.