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Sotomayor’s Reversal Rate Discussed

June 1, 2009

Stephen L. Carter, a law professor, author and former classmate of Sonia Sotomayor, discusses the allegation that the Supreme Court has overturned 60% of her decisions. That is, 3 out of 5 that have been reviewed by the Court have been overturned. The number, of course, sounds high. It is also so misleading as to be almost meaningless. One reason: Judge Sotomayor has written 380 majority opinions and only those 3 have been overturned. Carter discusses other reasons why her critics are pushing a meaningless statistic at the Daily Beast.

Five opinions out of almost 400 is simply too small a number for us to draw reliable conclusions. Indeed, if we could render a verdict based on so small a sample, we would have to conclude that Justice Samuel Alito holds no respect for precedent. After all, when Alito served on the Court of Appeals, the only two majority opinions he wrote that the Supreme Court reviewed were reversed. By the method of Sotomayor’s critics, this yields a reversal rate of 100 percent. This would have been an absurd argument to make against Alito. It is equally absurd when applied to Sotomayor.

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