A Wise Latina Spender?

As more information becomes available, we are able to form a clearer impression of Judge Sonia Sotomayor. She is an intelligent, well-educated individual with broad experience in both corporate and judicial law. According to the White House and to her own statements, she is a person whose "compelling life story" would make her a "better" or "wiser" justice than a white male. She is also a Federal Appeals Court judge with a 17-year history of rulings which, taken as a whole, place her on the left of judicial opinion spectrum in modern America.

These matters have been thoroughly discussed and digested in the media, and, predictably, liberals have come out in favor of her nomination (even those like Sen. Harry Reid, who admitted to never having read one of her rulings) while conservatives are lining up against it. But while pundits are deciding whether or not Ms Sotomayor is or is not a "racist" and whether her life story is or is not that "compelling" (was she really all that "underprivileged" or just pretending to have been so?), another issue has cropped up. What has Sonia Sotomayor done with all the money she has earned over the last 25 years?

Sotomayor's annual earnings come to $196,000 a year ($170,000 a year as an appeals judge and $26,000 for part-time teaching). She has served as an appeals judge for 17 years. This service was preceded by lengthy tenure at a corporate law firm of Pavia and Harcourt, where she was a partner, and presumably was well compensated.

Yet after a career that has spanned 25 years, Ms Sotomayor only has one thousand dollars in net savings. As reported in the New York Post, Sotomayor's bank account holds $31,985. Her credit cards debts are $15,823, and she has $15,000 in unpaid dental bills. That leaves her with $1,162. Sotomayor's total assets, revealed as $708,068, consist almost entirely of equity in her Manhattan apartment. The judge's financial filing does not disclose what percentage of this figure is unrealized gain, but it must be sizable. In other words, other than home equity, Ms Sotomayor is essentially broke.

If confirmed as a Supreme Court justice, Ms Sotomayor will be ruling on numerous cases that involve investors, savers, corporate profits, business regulation, and related free-market issues. There is nothing in the rules that says that a justice on the United States Supreme Court must be an investor in the stock or bond market, or even that she must be financially solvent. But the fact that Ms Sotomayor, after so many years of highly paid professional work, has no savings or investments and no experience or apparent "empathy" with savers or investors, should be highly troubling to the tens of millions of Americans who do have investments, 401Ks, and personal savings.

One would not expect a judge with Sotomayor's "life story" of not investing and not saving to have much sympathy with the corporate and small business community. And, in fact, Sotomayor's record on the bench bears this out. According to Michael Bachner, a defense lawyer who has appeared before her, Judge Sotomayor is "very tough" on white-collar defendants, but less so on criminals from the street.

In one of her most important rulings (as reported in the New York Times), Sotomayor ruled that corporations must address environmental concerns in the most radical manner without consideration of the cost. If one particle of pollutant remains to be removed, even at the cost of bankrupting all of the companies in the S&P 500 index, that particle must be removed. If a small business has failed to purchase the most advanced equipment available to address environmental concerns, even if the price of that equipment is one hundred times the revenue of the business in question, the equipment must be purchased. That is how much "empathy" we can expect from Judge Sotomayor.

The White House has attempted to excuse Judge Sotomayor's lack of fiscal good sense by noting that the nominee spends a great deal of money on her mother and purchases Christmas gifts for over 60 individuals. Judge Sotomayor's spending on her mother is admirable, but Sotomayor has not revealed the details of this spending. According to a financial statement filed by Sotomayor herself, just about everything not spent on her own and her mother's expenses was taken up with gifts to those 60 individuals. That is a lot of Christmas shopping.

Of course Sotomayor is perfectly free to spend her money any way she wishes, as, one would hope, we all are. But the amount of spending going on and the apparent lack of financial discretion in her case do raise questions about Sotomayor's character. How can anyone who believes in personal responsibility work for twenty-five years in highly paid positions and have only $1,000 in net savings to show for it? It would seem that Ms Sotomayor puts greater trust in the Social Security system than do the vast majority of Americans who, according to figures in Kiplinger Finance magazine, approach retirement with personal savings of $55,000. At the very least, Sotomayor's lack of savings suggest that she may not be the far-sighted, wise Latina woman that she pretends to be.

Nor do these financial details support the White House fiction of Sotomayor's "compelling life story." Sotomayor's childhood was not the impoverished, underprivileged grind that has been depicted in the liberal media. During the era of affirmative action quotas, she received scholarships to elite universities. One must credit Ms Sotomayor for taking advantage of the opportunities provided for her, but the fiction that she rose from an indigent childhood strictly on the basis of her own superhuman efforts is just that, a fiction.

What is not a fiction is the fact that Ms Sotomayor has shown no interest in saving or investing, nor has she shown any understanding of the need for the American public to save or invest. Nor, so far as I know, has she displayed much understanding of the profit motive that drives corporations or small businesses. Perhaps this is because, as in her own case, she does not expect Americans to save for their own retirement. Instead, we are supposed to leave it to government -- the same Big Government that is expected to provide cradle to grave care while confiscating the assets of every business and individual to pay for it. The same Big Government that thinks that companies should be run out of business for the sin of emitting one particle of pollution into the environment.

Finally, the question comes down to Sonia Sotomayor's vision of America as a capitalist, free-market economy and of the role of individuals and businesses within this economy. Her rulings from the appeals court bench have not been very reassuring on this point. Nor do the recent disclosures of Ms Sotomayor's personal finances.

Dr. Jeffrey Folks taught for thirty years in universities in Europe, America, and Japan. He has published nine books.