This week, the Senate begins deliberations on the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor, who if confirmed, would become the first Hispanic and only the third woman to serve on the high court. For campaign finance reform advocates across the nation, her nomination may be no less historic - perhaps a rare opportunity to seat a champion of clean elections on the Supreme Court. With the high court poised to review our campaign finance laws in September, Judge Sotomayor's record on and off the bench suggests that a Justice Sotomayor may emerge as a compelling voice of reason on the issue of campaign finance reform.
To begin with, for four years prior to her appointment to the U.S. District Court by President George Bush in 1992, Judge Sotomayor served on the New York City Campaign Finance Board, a nonpartisan agency that administers the city's campaign finance program. In 1996, co-authoring an article in the Suffolk University Law Review, Judge Sotomayor wrote,
"The public must demand a change in the role of private money or find other ways, such as through strict, well-enforced regulation, to ensure that politicians are not inappropriately influenced in their legislative or executive decision-making by the interests that give them contributions."
Furthermore, in 2005, on the one instance when campaign finance reform entered her jurisdiction as a Court of Appeals judge, Sotomayor joined the majority opinion in effectively granting the court's blessing to Vermont's strict limits on campaign contributions.
Admittedly, Judge Sotomayor's substantial legal record is no ironclad guarantee that as a justice on the high court, she will be no less an ardent defender of campaign finance reform. One only need to be reminded that retiring Supreme Court Justice David Souter, appointed to the court by the first President Bush for his conservative credentials, soon surprised even the court's keenest observers by consistently dissenting from his fellow appointees from the Reagan-Bush years.
If confirmed, we hope that Judge Sotomayor will continue to follow a commonsense interpretation of our nation's laws, recognizing that forging a stronger foundation for free speech in our democracy will require breaking the stranglehold of special interests on our leaders through campaign finance reform.