The Yale Law Journal




The Early Jurisprudence of Justice Sotomayor

Sonia Sotomayor’s first five years on the Court

24 Mar 2014

A Conversation with Justice Sotomayor

Justice Sonia Sotomayor & Linda Greenhouse

On February 3, 2014, Justice Sonia Sotomayor delivered the James A. Thomas Lecture at Yale Law School. This transcript is adapted (with slight editing) from that lecture, which took the form of a conversation between Justice Sotomayor and Linda Greenhouse. The lecture touched on topics including Justice Sotomayor’s conception of her role and her jurisprudence, her agreements and disagreements with colleagues, and her outreach to the wider public.

24 Mar 2014

Secrecy, Intimacy, and Workable Rules: Justice Sotomayor Stakes Out the Middle Ground in United States v. Jones

Miriam H. Baer

In this Essay, Professor Miriam Baer focuses on Justice Sotomayor’s concurrence in United States v. Jones, which has attracted widespread notice due to Justice Sotomayor’s suggestion that the Court reconsider its reasonable expectation of privacy test and the related third-party doctrine. Professor Baer argues that Justice Sotomayor’s opinion exemplifies an attempt to stake out a “middle ground” approach to Fourth Amendment debates over surveillance and technology, one which foregrounds intimacy and common-sense rules as guiding principles.

24 Mar 2014

Justice Sotomayor and Criminal Justice in the Real World

Rachel E. Barkow

As part of the symposium to reflect on Justice Sotomayor’s first five years on the Supreme Court, this Essay explores Justice Sotomayor’s contributions to the Court’s criminal law jurisprudence. Professor Rachel Barkow argues that Justice Sotomayor’s prior experience working on criminal law cases as a prosecutor and trial judge have influenced her Supreme Court opinions, which focus on how things actually work in practice, pay close attention to the specific facts of cases, and show sensitivity to the need for checks on government power. These commitments often lead Justice Sotomayor to reject formal rules that would promote predictability at the expense of accurately reflecting the world in which the rules must operate.

24 Mar 2014

Reading Michigan v. Bryant, “Reading” Justice Sotomayor

I. Bennett Capers

What are we to make of Justice Sotomayor’s criminal procedure jurisprudence? In this Essay, Professor I. Bennett Capers attempts to answer that question by offering three readings of her Confrontation Clause decision in Michigan v. Bryant. All three close readings, coupled with details from her memoir, serve as the basis for a “reading” of Justice Sotomayor. In toto, these readings reveal Justice Sotomayor to be precedent-bound, except when she’s not, and to be progressive, but not above using conservative methodologies to get her way. Ultimately, Professor Capers suggests that her approach offers some heartening signals and some possible dangers, but also reasons to hope.

24 Mar 2014

The People’s Justice?

David Fontana

Over the past few decades, the liberal Justices on the Supreme Court have made their most notable extrajudicial communications about the Constitution in academic venues discussing academic issues. This has limited their appeal to broader audiences. In this Essay, Professor David Fontana explores the distinctive path that Justice Sotomayor has pursued during her first five years on the Court. Justice Sotomayor has spoken to academic audiences, as past liberal Justices have. What is most notable about Justice Sotomayor, though, is that she has also appeared in locations and addressed issues that make her and what she discusses of broader appeal; that gives her the potential, as this Essay discusses, to become the “People’s Justice.” Justice Sotomayor thus may make liberal perspectives on the Constitution more known, more liked, and more comprehensible. For those concerned with pursuing a liberal vision of the Constitution, this could be an important development.

24 Mar 2014

Sotomayor’s Supreme Court Race Jurisprudence: “Fidelity to the Law”

Tanya Katerí Hernández

During the Senate confirmation hearings for Justice Sonia Sotomayor, concerns were persistently raised about her ability to be impartial. In this Essay, Professor Hernández argues that the Supreme Court’s race-related jurisprudence illuminates Justice Sotomayor’s continued commitment to her stated judicial philosophy of “fidelity to the law.” The record suggests that Justice Sotomayor has not sought to unilaterally impose her own personal racial policy preferences, but has instead worked as a team player to scrupulously apply legal precedents, rules of standing, and congressional intent. 

24 Mar 2014

Uniformity and Integrity in Immigration Law: Lessons from the Decisions of Justice (and Judge) Sotomayor

Cristina M. Rodríguez

Though courts and scholars emphasize the importance of uniformity in the interpretation and application of federal immigration law, systemic complexity makes its achievement elusive. In the immigration opinions she has drafted to date on the Supreme Court, as well as in her extensive work reviewing asylum adjudications on the Second Circuit, Justice Sotomayor has invoked uniformity as a means of promoting fairness and accountability. But she also has demonstrated how these values can be advanced even in uniformity’s absence, when the system produces conflict and divergent enforcement outcomes. Her opinions highlight how courts can meaningfully, albeit imperfectly, constrain administrative actors through consistent legal interpretation, while still accepting the diversity and discretion built into immigration law itself.

24 Mar 2014

Justice Sotomayor and the Jurisprudence of Procedural Justice

Tracey L. Meares & Tom R. Tyler

In this Essay, Professors Tyler and Meares highlight the ways in which recent social science research supports the model of jurisprudence articulated by Justice Sotomayor. Her model defines building identification with political and legal institutions as an important goal for the Court.  It further suggests that this goal is best achieved when the Court exercises its authority using just procedures. That perspective is consistent with research on the foundations of popular legitimacy demonstrating that perceived procedural justice of the Court most strongly shapes it. Social science findings further reveal the factors shaping popular conceptions of procedural justice.

24 Mar 2014

Justice Sotomayor and the Supreme Court’s Certiorari Process

Robert M. Yablon

The Supreme Court’s certiorari process is generally a black box. Occasionally, however, Justices issue statements explaining their dissent from or concurrence in the denial of certiorari. Since she joined the Court, Justice Sotomayor has produced more of these statements than any of her colleagues. In this Essay, Robert Yablon considers what Justice Sotomayor’s certiorari-stage writings reveal about her substantive passions and her vision of the Supreme Court’s institutional responsibilities. Nearly all of Justice Sotomayor’s statements decry instances in which the criminal justice system failed to deliver on its promise of ethical and evenhanded justice, whether due to structural defects or individual transgressions on the part of prosecutors or courts. The author suggests that, were the Court to recalibrate its docket along the lines Justice Sotomayor’s writings advocate, the Court could improve the functioning of the legal system as well as its own institutional standing.

03 Feb 2014

Why Firearm Federalism Beats Firearm Localism

Michael P. O'Shea

Americans are increasingly polarized on gun rights and gun policy, leading some scholars to ask whether the Second Amendment provides a tool to manage disagreement and promote decentralization. Joseph Blocher’s Firearm Localism takes up this perspective and makes a case for deference to local and municipal gun control laws, including the revision or repeal of statewide firearms preemption statutes. In this Essay, Professor O’Shea argues that neither judicial tradition nor the priorities of contemporary urban gun owners support such deference. Moreover, unlike traditional federalism, Blocher’s localism would undermine the compromise value that was supposed to be decentralization’s strength: the prospect of piecemeal local regulation could threaten the practical exercise of gun rights even in generally pro-gun areas. In short, if one adopts a decentralizing approach to the Second Amendment, then its proper form is a conventional, state-based federalism backed by preemption.

09 Jan 2014

Tiny Constables and the Cost of Surveillance: Making Cents Out of United States v. Jones

Kevin S. Bankston and Ashkan Soltani

In United States v. Jones, five Supreme Court Justices wrote that government surveillance of one’s public movements for twenty-eight days using a GPS device violated a reasonable expectation of privacy and constituted a Fourth Amendment search. Unfortunately, they didn’t provide a clear and administrable rule that could be applied in other government surveillance cases. In this Essay, Kevin Bankston and Ashkan Soltani draw together threads from the Jones concurrences and existing legal scholarship and combine them with data about the costs of different location tracking techniques to articulate a cost-based conception of the expectation of privacy that both supports and is supported by the concurring opinions in Jones.


Responses to Jed Rubenfeld’s Riddle of Rape-By-Deception

Jed Rubenfeld, The Riddle of Rape-by-Deception and the Myth of Sexual Autonomy, 122 Yale L.J. 1372 (2013)

01 Dec 2013

No Way Around Consent: A Reply to Rubenfeld on “Rape-by-Deception”

Tom Dougherty

Recently, Jed Rubenfeld has argued for a new rape law principle that aims to unravel an intriguing riddle that he has posed about obtaining sex by means of deception. In this Essay, Tom Dougherty argues that Rubenfeld’s self-possession principle itself gives a role to consent that deception can effectively vitiate. In light of this difficulty, Dougherty suggests that the only tenable solution is to take rape-by-deception seriously.

01 Dec 2013

Sex Without Consent

Deborah Tuerkheimer

Modern rape law lacks a governing principle. In The Riddle of Rape-by-Deception and the Myth of Sexual Autonomy, Jed Rubenfeld contends that the most obvious candidate—sexual autonomy—is inadequate. I agree, though for vastly different reasons. Rubenfeld advances a conception of rape as a violation of a right to self-possession; this approach raises real problems. I introduce an alternative understanding of rape—rape as a violation of sexual agency. Theories of agency expressly contemplate its exercise under constraints. This framework thus can account for both women’s sexual violation and the value of women’s sexual subjectivity. The turn to agency provides new justification for defining rape as sex without consent.

01 Dec 2013

Not Logic, but Experience: Drawing on Lessons from the Real World in Thinking About the Riddle of Rape-by-Fraud

Patricia J. Falk

In this Essay, Professor Patricia J. Falk argues that Professor Jed Rubenfeld’s solution to the “riddle of rape-by-deception” goes too far in eviscerating the body of rape law that courts and legislatures have developed over the past decades. Falk suggests that eliminating nonconsent and foregrounding force is a mistake, and that it is instead critical to think more robustly about what meaningful consent and sexual autonomy might require.

01 Dec 2013

Delineating the Heinous: Rape, Sex, and Self-Possession

Gowri Ramachandran

In this Essay, Professor Ramachandran examines Professor Rubenfeld’s concept of self-possession, which Rubenfeld presents as a helpful way to define the harm of rape. She argues that if the concept represents exclusive physical control over one’s body, it is an elusive and undesirable ideal, and as problematic as the sexual autonomy concept that Rubenfeld critiques. Alternately, if it represents the narrower concept of mind-body integration, it makes a principled distinction between rape and battery impossible. The solution is to acknowledge that rape is a sex crime, unique because sex carries distinctive risks and meanings.

01 Dec 2013

Rape-by-Deception—A Response

Jed Rubenfeld

In this Essay, Professor Jed Rubenfeld responds to commentary on The Riddle of Rape-by-Deception and the Myth of Sexual Autonomy, published in Volume 122 of the Yale Law Journal. Engaging with four different interlocutors, he suggests that sex-by-deception remains a serious puzzle in rape law, and that self-possession offers an especially promising means of rethinking rape law to address it.

18 Nov 2013

(Re)Solving the Tribal No-Forum Conundrum: Michigan v. Bay Mills Indian Community

Matthew L.M. Fletcher

Michigan v. Bay Mills Indian Community, a dispute over a controversial off-reservation Indian casino, is the latest opportunity for the Supreme Court to address the doctrine of tribal sovereign immunity. The Court could hand Michigan a big win by broadly abrogating tribal immunity, and in turn wreak havoc on modern tribal governance. Alternately, the Court could hand Bay Mills a victory by affirming the tribe’s immunity, effectively precluding judicial review of the tribe’s casino project. In this Essay, Professor Matthew L.M. Fletcher argues that neither choice is preferable to a third option that would both advance tribal self-determination and hold tribes accountable to outsiders. The Court could condition tribal immunity in federal or state court on whether the tribe has solved the no-forum problem by providing a tribal forum for the resolution of important disputes.

07 Nov 2013

Syria, Threats of Force, and Constitutional War Powers

Matthew C. Waxman

In this Essay, Professor Matthew Waxman argues that debates about constitutional war powers neglect the critical role of threats of war or force in American foreign policy. The recent Syria case highlights the President’s vast legal power to threaten military force as well as the political constraints imposed by Congress on such threats. Incorporating threats into an understanding of constitutional powers over war and peace upends traditional arguments about presidential flexibility and congressional checks—arguments that have failed to keep pace with changes in American grand strategy.

29 Oct 2013

On Estimating Disparity and Inferring Causation: Sur-Reply to the U.S. Sentencing Commission Staff

Sonja B. Starr and M. Marit Rehavi

In this Essay, Professors Starr and Rehavi respond to the U.S. Sentencing Commission’s empirical staff’s criticisms of their recent article, which found, contrary to the Commission’s prior work, no evidence that racial disparity in sentences increased in response to United States v. Booker. As Starr and Rehavi suggest, their differences with the Commission perhaps relate to differing objectives. The Commission staff’s reply expresses a lack of interest in identifying Booker’s causal effects; in contrast, that is Starr and Rehavi’s central objective. In addition, Starr and Rehavi’s approach also accounts for disparities arising throughout the post-arrest justice process, extending beyond the Commission’s narrower focus on disparities in adherence to the Sentencing Guidelines. Beyond these core disagreements, Starr and Rehavi point to several ways in which the reply’s other criticisms inaccurately describe their claims, their methods, and the scope of their study’s sample.

23 Oct 2013

Why Judges Matter at Sentencing: A Reply to Starr and Rehavi

Glenn R. Schmitt, Louis Reedt, and Kevin Blackwell

In this Essay, researchers at the United States Sentencing Commission respond to criticisms by Sonja Starr and Marit Rehavi, published in the Yale Law Journal, of the Commission’s past analyses of demographic differences in federal sentences. The researchers explain the legal and practical foundation of their work and why these considerations support the Commission’s methodological approach. The authors also question the representativeness of the data that Starr and Rehavi use in their alternative analyses and the assumptions they make about how the federal criminal justice system operates.

Summary Judgment

Reactions to Windsor

15 Sep 2013

Windsor’s Right to Marry

Douglas NeJaime

In this Essay, Professor Douglas NeJaime reads United States v. Windsor, which technically rested on equal protection grounds, through the lens of the fundamental right to marry. The Windsor Court absorbed decades of LGBT rights advocacy by situating same-sex couples within a contemporary model of marriage in which marriage’s private welfare function and public recognition dimensions are mutually reinforcing. NeJaime argues that this specific understanding of the right to marry will likely guide the Court’s equal protection, rather than substantive due process, analysis when it one day determines the constitutionality of state marriage prohibitions.

15 Sep 2013

Lower Court Popular Constitutionalism

Katie Eyer

Scholars of popular constitutionalism have persuasively argued that an array of nonjudicial actors—social movements, the federal political branches, state and local political entities—play an important role in shaping constitutional meaning. To date, the accounts of such scholars have largely focused on the ways that constitutional doctrine at the Supreme Court level can be infiltrated and shaped by such popular constitutional influences. In this Essay, Professor Katie Eyer draws on the events following the Obama Administration’s February 2011 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) announcement—and the history of gay equality litigation that preceded it—to develop a theory of the lower federal courts as participants in the popular constitutionalism dialogue.


The Future of Section 5

Four perspectives on the future of voting rights law in advance of Shelby County v. Holder

08 Jun 2013

The Dignity of the South

Joseph Fishkin

The plaintiffs in Shelby County v. Holder argue that section 5 of the Voting Rights Act offends the “equal dignity” of the states. In this Essay, written in advance of the decision, Professor Joseph Fishkin situates this claim in a larger context. Americans have been fighting since the Civil War and Reconstruction about the structural implications of the events of 1861-1870 for the sovereignty, dignity, and equality of the states—especially the Southern states. The implications of adopting the “equal dignity” of the covered states as a constraint on Congress’s Reconstruction Power are deeply problematic and profound.

08 Jun 2013

Section 5 as Simulacrum

Justin Levitt

Professor Justin Levitt discusses the Shelby County challenge to section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, noting downsides to the Act’s tremendous symbolic importance. In particular, he finds that the case seems to hinge on a simulacrum of the statute—like an editorial cartoonist’s rendering of a political figure, in which particular features take on exaggerated salience. Many elements of the simulacrum have at least the ring of truth. But though the cartoon version of section 5 resembles the original, the exaggerated features distort rather than clarify our understanding of the actual statute’s constitutionality. 

07 Jun 2013

Mapping a Post-Shelby County Contingency Strategy

Guy-Uriel E. Charles and Luis Fuentes-Rohwer

Professors Guy-Uriel E. Charles and Luis Fuentes-Rohwer argue that voting rights activists ought to be prepared for a future in which section 5 is not part of the landscape. If the Court strikes down section 5, an emerging ecosystem of private entities and organized interest groups of various stripes—what they call institutional intermediaries—may be willing and able to mimic the elements that made section 5 an effective regulatory device. As voting rights activists plot a post-Shelby County contingency strategy, they should both account for institutional intermediaries and think about the types of changes that could enhance the ability of these groups to better protect voting rights.

05 Jun 2013

A Cure Worse than the Disease?

Ellen D. Katz

The pending challenge to section 5 of the Voting Rights Act insists the statute is no longer necessary. Should the Supreme Court agree, its ruling is likely to reflect the belief that section 5 is not only obsolete but that its requirements do more harm today than the condition it was crafted to address. In this Essay, Professor Ellen D. Katz examines why the Court might liken section 5 to a destructive treatment and why reliance on that analogy in the pending case threatens to leave the underlying condition unaddressed and Congress without the power to address it.

16 May 2013

A Brief Sur-Reply to Professors Graetz and Warren

Ruth Mason and Michael Knoll

Professors Ruth Mason and Michael Knoll defend their interpretation of the tax-discrimination jurisprudence of the Court of Justice of the European Union, arguing that the nature of their project has been misunderstood by Professors Michael Graetz and Alvin Warren. In Mason and Knoll’s view, competitive neutrality remains the principle most plausibly guiding Court of Justice rulings on tax discrimination, and thereby illuminates the clearest way out of the doctrinal confusion in this field of law.