Alito v. Sotomayor?

Last Sunday, the Washington Post ran a story comparing Justice Alito with Justice Sotomayor. The comparison is interesting as they are the only justices on the court with prosecutorial experience and much direct experience with trial court proceedings (although Sotomayor has substantially more than Alito).

The Supreme Court’s two former prosecutors sit on opposite ends of the court’s long mahogany bench, and they take very different views of the criminal justice system.

Justices Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Sonia Sotomayor have emerged in their relatively short time on the bench as two of the court’s most outspoken members on criminal justice issues. Sometimes they speak in unison, but when they disagree they often represent the court’s ideological divide.

It would be mistake to view Justices Alito and Sotomayor as representing polar opposites on the Court, however. The latest SCOTUSBlog StatPack shows they agreed in full only 58 percent of the time, but that’s still quite a bit more than Justice Breyer or Ginsburg fully agreed with Justice Scalia or Thomas. Nonetheless, the Alito-Sotomayor interaction is worth watching givne the unique experiences they bring to the Court.

The morning after this story ran, the Court issued its opinion in Tapia v. United States, in which the Court held that trial courts could not impose longer criminal sentences for the purpose of rehabilitation. The Court was unanimous, but Justice Sotomayor wrote a concurring opinion defending the conduct of the trial judge in this case. Although she supported remand, Justice Sotomayor explained why she was skeptical that the trial judge had actually violated the Court’s holding. One other justice joined this concurrence: Justice Alito.