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Justice Sonia Sotomayor Breaks New Two-Minute Rule By Interrupting Lawyer During Immigration Case

There’s no denying Justice Sonia Sotomayor is a passionate person. Some may have the false presumption that the Puerto Rican, Bronx-born judge would be biased toward liberal-leaning causes. However, one of the main reasons she stands in the most elite courtroom in the country is because former President George W. Bush nominated her as a judge on the United States District Court in 1991.

She moved up the ranks with each administration, and in 2009 was nominated for Supreme Court by former President Barack Obama. As the first person of Latino descent to serve on the Supreme Court, Justice Sotomayor has brought a new perspective to the court. In this new term, Justice Sotomayor hit the ground running, even if she stepped in too soon. Turns out there is a new guideline for questions that the justice is still getting used to.

Lawyers who are arguing cases before Supreme Court judges were given a new guideline: they could argue cases without any interruptions for at least two minutes. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, however, forgot, apparently.

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The high profile case that was being argued last week concerned a man named Ramos Garcia, an undocumented immigrant, who was convicted in Kansas for using a fraudulent social security number in order to obtain a job at a restaurant. The matter in question is whether the law that was broken was a federal crime or a state crime.

Garcia’s lawyer argued that he could not be convicted by the state of Kansas because all crimes committed by undocumented immigrants fall under federal law, not individual states. Officials in Kansas said they wanted to charge Garcia for stealing a social security ID number with their state identity theft law. A local court ruled in Garcia’s favor, so the state appealed the matter, which is why the matter is now in the Supreme Court. 

Justice Sotomayor interrupted a prosecutor during his argument to ask a question about when a state has the jurisdiction to prosecute an undocumented immigrant, breaking the new two-minute room.

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According to Fox News, the prosecutor posed the argument “whether states can prosecute immigrants using information obtained on employee verification forms.” 

Justice Sotomayor jumped in and asked, “Even if they were applying to a college?” Chief Justice John Roberts interrupted the exchange by saying, “I’m sorry. You can answer that question after your time has …” Then Justice Sotomayor apologized, according to Fox News. 

She apparently interrupted prosecutors for a second time, but some experts are blaming this mishap on the newness of the rule and the fact that the justices have to adapt to the change.

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The new 2-minute rule was introduced in order to give lawyers a chance to make their first arguments before answering questions posed by the justices. According to NBC News, Justice Sotomayor is known to ask a lot of questions. 

Here’s how the new 2-minute rule works, as NBC News reports: “The Court generally will not question lead counsel for petitioners (or appellants) and respondents (or appellees) during the first two minutes of argument. The white light on the lectern will illuminate briefly at the end of this period to signal the start of questioning. Where argument is divided and counsel represents an amicus or an additional party, the white light will illuminate after one minute.”

While the light is used to help the justices know when they can speak, Justice Sotomayor was eager to ask a question, which doesn’t seem like that big of a deal.

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A public interest litigator tweeted, “Seeing a lot of media reports that Justice Sotomayor ‘violated a rule’ in oral arguments today. But there is no ‘Rule.’ The Guide for Counsel explicitly states it is not a source of Rules and says ‘The Court *generally* will not question…during the first two minutes.’ ‘Generally.'” That means, she’s not really breaking a rule, but going against a new guideline. So why is there all of this fuss about this interruption? She’s only getting accustomed to this new guideline. She’s not trying to be a troublemaker. All of this is to note that Justice Sotomayor is just doing her job.

Fox News noted that perhaps Justice Sotomayor should take pointers from her colleague, Justice Clarence Thomas who, in 2016, asked his first question in ten years.

READ: Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor Married A Gay Couple And It Was The Sweetest Thing

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