Does Sotomayor Oppose The Death Penalty?

Republicans in Congress have all but given up trying to derail the confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor for a Supreme Court seat. Even Manny Miranda, the controversial conservative leading the attacks on Sotomayor, has admitted he has no hope of winning a filibuster because the GOP just doesn’t have the numbers. That stark fact apparently won’t stop serious right-wingers from attempting to bloody Sotomayor anyway, this time over her stance on the death penalty.

Today, Wendy Long, counsel to the conservative Judicial Confirmation Network, sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee complaining that Sotomayor has failed to make public controversial materials from her 12-year membership in the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, where she was once a board member. The documents purportedly show her opposing reinstatement of New York’s death penalty back in 1981.  Long is shocked–shocked!–that Sotomayor signed on to a memo suggesting that “Capital punishment is associated with evident racism in our society.”

No matter that virtually any serious researcher who’s ever looked at the demographics of the death penalty have also concluded that minorities are vastly overrepresented among Death Row inmates. Long writes: “The Sotomayor memorandum that she withheld from the Senate 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, much more akin philosophically to Justices William Brennan and Thurgood Marshall, than to Justice Souter, whom she would replace.  As a minimum, the memo places her firmly in the Brennan-Marshall line of thinking on the death penalty and race.”

Long’s beef about the death penalty seems like much ado about nothing, especially given that the U.S. Supreme Court has been increasingly skeptical about the application of the death penalty generally. But no doubt her discovery will provide conservative critics with a fresh talking point to supplement their tired “wise Latina” attacks. If it’s true, though, that there is a trove of documents from Sotomayor’s time at the defense fund that she didn’t give the Senate, Long might be on to something. If nothing else, the public deserves to have a full picture of the nominee.