Sotomayor: Fundamental Right To Abortion, Not to Bear Arms

Of all the generalities and evasions that Judge Sonia Sotomayor offered the Senate Judiciary Committee during her confirmation hearing, surely the strangest was one she made when describing her role in the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Sotomayor was on the PRLDEF’s board of directors for twelve years during the 1980s and early 1990s, a period when the fund issued no less than six briefs to the Supreme Court in abortion cases. Those briefs argued, among other things, that abortion was a “fundamental right” and that, contrary to scientific evidence, “the belief that life begins at conception is religious.” In them, the PRLDEF called upon the high court to strike down every common-sense state law regulating abortion, including ones supported by the overwhelming majority of Americans — such as parental-notification and informed-consent laws.

During the hearings, Sotomayor characterized her role in the PRLDEF simply as that of a fund-raising board member, unaware of details of its legal work. Until Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) raised the issue, she failed to even acknowledge that she in fact chaired the board’s litigation committee for four years. Instead, she told Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) that the board looked at the PRLDEF’s legal work only to ensure it was consistent with the Fund’s mission statement.

It was then that she made her most bizarre, and perhaps unintentionally telling, statement:
“Our mission statement,” Sotomayor explained, “was broad, like the Constitution.”

Broad, like the Constitution. Broad enough for someone who had spent many years as a political activist to read anything into — or out of — that she might choose.

It was quite a revealing statement for a judge who, just this past April, praised international and foreign law for providing judges with “ideas [that] set our creative juices flowing.” If one defines the Constitution by its broadness, one can easily read foreign nations’ “ideas” into it.

Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn, in his statement last Friday on his decision to oppose the nominee’s confirmation, observed that, when confronted with her controversial past statements about judging, she claimed “she doesn’t really believe any of these radical ideas after all — her views on the law are right in line with Chief Justice John Roberts.” Given the apparent disparity between her past statements and her statements to the Committee, Cornyn found himself asking, “Will the real Judge Sotomayor please stand up?”

The truth is that, in the midst of all her contradictions, the real Judge Sotomayor did stand up. In that offhand comment about the PRLDEF’s mission statement, she told the committee that she views the Constitution as “broad.” And in case anyone wondered just how broadly she saw the Constitution, she made it clear in her other answers that she saw it as containing a “right to privacy” broad enough to include a “woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy.”

Sotomayor also told the Committee that PRLDEF lawyers had an “ethical obligation” to litigate “public health issues as [they] affected the Latino community” — and that the fund, like “a number of civil-rights organizations at the time,” considered abortion a public health issue. Hence, she said, “the fund had a health-care docket that included challenges to certain limitations on a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy under certain circumstances.”

So, despite claiming ignorance of the content of particular PRLDEF briefs — ignorance which, in light of records of the fund’s litigation-committee meetings, strains credulity — she was well aware that the fund’s “broad” mission included challenges to common-sense laws. As I told the Senate Judiciary Committee when I testified as President of Americans United for Life, given that she was aware of those challenges, it again strains credibility to believe she was unaware that those challenges were based on the argument that abortion was a “fundamental right.”

How ironic that Sotomayor, in her answers to the Judiciary Committee, failed to recognize the Second Amendment right to bear arms as a fundamental right, even as she praised the “broad” mission of the advocacy organization that, on her watch, claimed rights not enumerated in the Constitution were “fundamental.” When called on this by Sessions, who said, “but you say [abortion’s] the fundamental right” and the Second Amendment is not, she did not deny it. Instead, she said, “Fundamental is a legal term that I didn’t make up.”

Such a contradiction is deeply troubling in a Supreme Court nominee whose job, if confirmed, will be to apply, not reinvent or “broaden” our written Constitution.

Americans want Justices on the Court who apply the law, not make policy. That is why Americans United for Life respectfully urges the members of the U.S. Senate to vote against Judge Sotomayor’s nomination.

Dr. Yoest was the principal pro-life leader asked to testify at the Sotomayor hearings. For more, see