Sotomayor Failed to Disclose to Senate Memo in Which She Argued Death Penalty Is 'Racist'

By Pete Winn | June 5, 2009 | 3:14 PM EDT

President Barack Obama announces federal appeals court judge Sonia Sotomayor, right, as his nominee for the Supreme Court, Tuesday, May 26, 2009, in an East Room ceremony of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

( – The Judicial Confirmation Network (JCN) says Judge Sonia Sotomayor failed to disclose to the Senate Judiciary Committee a controversial document arguing that the death penalty is “racist” and a violation of the present “humanist” thinking of society.
The 1981 memo, they say, should have been disclosed as required under Question 12 (b) of the questionnaire that the Supreme Court nominee turned in Thursday.
Question 12(b) requires a nominee to "(s)upply four (4) copies of any reports, memoranda, or policy statements you prepared or contributed to the preparation of on behalf of any bar association, committee, conference, or organization of which you were or are a member or in which you have participated."
JCN Counsel Wendy Long sent a letter Friday to Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and members of the committee arguing that Sotomayor had not properly complied with this requirement because she had not submitted the 1981 memo on capital punishment.

“It is . . . clear that (Sotomayor) has omitted controversial material from her past in which she asserts that '[c]apital punishment is associated with evident racism in our society' and advocated public opposition to restoring the death penalty in New York state,” Long wrote to the committee.

Long told that her group had obtained a copy of the memorandum from an undisclosed source--and was convinced of its authenticity. The copy of the memorandum attached to JCN's letter to the Judiciary Committee is signed by a three-person task force of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund (PRLDEF) that included Sotomayor.

Long said that in her Senate questionnaire Sotomayor had accurately disclosed the fact that she worked for the PRLDEF from 1980 to 1992, and held high-ranking positions with the organization.

She also truthfully listed on the questionnaire an April 10, 1981 letter from PRLDEF to then-New York Gov. Hugh Carey, opposing reinstatement of the death penalty.
“But what she omitted, and what is far more substantive and revealing,” Long told, “is the underlying policy memorandum that she and two other task force members sent to the board of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund with all their reasons for opposing the death penalty, and arguing for the organization itself to take the stand that it ultimately did take in its letter to Gov. Carey.”
The memo that Sotomayor signed makes a number of “controversial, unsupported, and badly reasoned assertions” about the death penalty, Long added.

The memo, titled "Task Force on the Bill to Restore the Death Penalty in New York State," and dated March 24, 1981, states:
-- “An impressive array of highly respectable organizations have (sic) taken a public position opposed to the restoration of death penalty. All the major religious organizations have issued public statements opposed to it.”
--"In the review of the current literature of the past two years, no publications have been found that challenge the evidence and the rationale presented in opposition to the death penalty."
--"Capital punishment is associated with evident racism in our society. The number of minorities and the poor executed or awaiting execution is out of proportion to their numbers in the population."
--"The problem of crime and violence in American society is so complex, it is unreasonable to think that capital punishment will result in preventing it or diminishing it."
--"Our present perspective on the meaning of our values in the Judeo-Christian tradition, and the state of humanistic thinking in the world judge capital punishment as a violation of those values."
--“It is counter-productive; we inflict death on the offender to manifest our opposition to his inflicting death on another."
--“It creates inhuman psychological burdens for the offender and his/her family.”
The document was signed by Sotomayor and the other two members of the task force--Joseph P. Fitzpatrick, S.J., and Jorge Batista.

On Friday afternoon, a Washington story cited Fitpatrick as the "driving force behind the document," but failed to report that Sotomayor was required to disclose the document to Congress -- but didn't.  

“It is certainly a significant omission from her Senate questionnaire that is clearly called for by the terms of Question 12(b),” Long added. 
Long said the memorandum provides “an important data point to flesh out the picture of Sotomayor 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 David Souter.” 
“In other words, what she’s saying in this memo is that everybody agrees with this: that the death penalty is racist, that there’s no other view, that it completely violates the Judeo-Christian position--all of these are highly controversial positions that are certainly contradicted by other evidence,” Long told

Sotomayor is President Obama’s pick to replace Souter, who is retiring from the bench.

The White House announced Thursday that Sotomayor’s Senate questionnaire had been returned “in record time” for a Supreme Court nominee.

“I don’t know if this is a Tom Daschle-type vetting failure on the part of the White House, or whether it was potentially an intentional omission to try to rush this confirmation through without such controversial documents seeing the light of day,” Long said.

“In any case, it is clear that the Sotomayor Senate questionnaire is incomplete and unreliable. It must be sent back to her and to the White House, marked ‘Return to Sender,’ with instructions that it is not to be redelivered to the Senate without complete answers and all required documents,” she added.

A spokeswoman for the Senate Judiciary Committee said only that “committee staff is reviewing the questionnaire now.”
Calls to the offices of LatinoJustice PRLDEF -- the former Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund -- were not returned by press time.