Supreme Court Nominee Was on the Side of Minorities in Key Cases





President Obama's nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor, has a relatively thin record on cases involving higher education. But in two decisions that could have implications for higher education, she has sided with members of minority groups—in one case supporting a government hiring policy that would benefit African-Americans, and in the other supporting an individual student who challenged a grading policy as discriminatory.

In a third case, Judge Sotomayor supported an individual's right to file complaints against a university regardless of the merits of the suit....

In a case with more-direct applications to higher education, Judge Sotomayor was on another three-judge panel of the Second Circuit court that in 2001 unanimously upheld a trial-court jury's verdict against Queens College, which is part of the City University of New York, and the $50,000 in damages it awarded to the plaintiff.

In that case, Tolbert v. Queens College, the trial-court jury had found that the college had discriminated against a black graduate student on the basis of race by failing him on his final examinations, while giving Chinese students who spoke English as a second language more "slack" in completing their exams. The trial-court judge reversed the jury's verdict, but the Second Circuit appellate panel ruled that there was strong-enough evidence to sustain the original verdict. Judge Sotomayor did not write the opinion in that case.

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