Sotomayor brings a pragmatic approach to business cases

Newly minted Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor is much harder to pigeonhole than her opponents seem to believe, especially on business cases.

The first Hispanic on the nation's highest court has written about 150 opinions on business and civil cases, and according to experts consulted by The New York Times, showed no clear bias either for or against business interests. Sometimes her views were backed up by colleagues; at other times, her decisions were reversed by the Supreme Court. She has also represented business interests as an attorney in private practice.

In fact, she was endorsed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. President Tom Donohue said of Sotomayor, "With her unique experience as both a trial and appellate judge, Judge Sotomayor has seen firsthand the tremendous burdens that our legal system places on businesses."

In a closely split court, Sotomayor could prove to be a decisive vote on many key cases heard by the court this term. About 24 out of 45 cases on the court's docket for this term, which began at the start of the month, deal with business issues, according to the National Chamber Litigation Center of the United States Chamber of Commerce. The court Monday let stand the insider trading conviction of former Quest CEO Joseph Nacchio and is expected to rule on the appeal of former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling.

In Free Enterprise Fund v. Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, the court will also decide on the constitutionality of a regulatory board created in the wake of the Enron scandal. The role courts should play in setting the compensation to mutual fund advisors will be examined in Jones v. Harris Associates, according to The New York Times. In a friend-of-the-court brief, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce urges the court to reject a regulation-by-litigation approach.

New York University law professor Richard Pildes told the paper that the decisions in these cases will signal how receptive the court is to further regulation of financial markets in the wake of the worst economic slowdown since the Great Depression.

The question of whether professional sports teams should continue to be exempt from antitrust regulations is central to the case of American Needle v. National Football League. Other sports leagues are following the case closely and have filed briefs backing the NFL. Time said the case may be "the most important legal decision in sporting history."

The Chamber continues to worry about a potential new wave of securities regulations. Free speech concerns will be center stage when the court takes up the question of whether the government has the right to outlaw the distribution of a dogfighting video and whether campaign finance laws cover politically charged movies such as Hillary. Looks like Sotomayor won't be salsa dancing or throwing out the first pitch at Yankees games for a while.

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