Sotomayor jumps into Supreme Court role
WASHINGTON – By midmorning on the first day of the Supreme Court’s term, it was clear new Justice Sonia Sotomayor will fit right in – and in particular with her talkative fellow New Yorkers.
Sotomayor peppered the lawyers with questions in a pair of cases, joining fellow New Yorkers, Justices Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Together, the three left the other justices sitting in silence for much of the time.
In the first hour alone, Sotomayor asked 36 questions, and Scalia followed with 30. Ginsburg and Sotomayor dominated the questioning for much of the second hour.
Some new justices have sat and listened for days before joining in the arguments. Justice David Souter, the reserved New Hampshire native whom Sotomayor replaced, said little during his first year. Justice Clarence Thomas has not asked a question for more than three years.
If anyone assumed Sotomayor would play the role of shy rookie, she dispelled that idea within the first minutes of the opening argument, questioning Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler about the Miranda rule that requires the police to warn a crime suspect that he has a right to remain silent and a right to a lawyer. If a suspect says he wants a lawyer before he answers questions, the police must stop the questioning. The Miranda rule also bars police from trying again a day or two later to persuade him to talk without a lawyer.
But how long does this prohibition on questioning last? A police investigator in Maryland decided to visit an inmate who was being held on other charges and ask him about an unresolved child abuse case. It was two years and seven months after the prisoner, Michael Shatzer, had refused to talk unless he had a lawyer.
Facing a new investigator, Shatzer talked and made incriminating comments. After Shatzer was convicted of child abuse, a Maryland appeals court ruled his rights were violated when he was questioned without a lawyer present.
The Supreme Court took up Maryland’s appeal, and the justices sounded as though they were searching for a new rule that would allow new questioning of crime suspects after a long lapse of time.
A lawyer for the convicted child abuser insisted he should not have been questioned once he had said he would not talk without a lawyer.
“So there is no termination point? Really?” asked Sotomayor, sounding as skeptical as Scalia.
A possible Scalia-Sotomayor rivalry has been the topic of speculation since her appointment. Neither case heard Monday made for an ideological clash. There were no sharp exchanges among the justices.