Rosen on Sotomayor, Part IV - The Liberal Dissenter:

Jeff Rosen will have another article on Judge Sonia Sotomayor in the July 1 TNR. This article focuses on her dissenting opinions and concludes that Sotomayor is, in fact, quite liberal, and could help push the Court to the left in economic and criminal law cases. Here's a taste of the article:

If Sotomayor's majority opinions are often hard to distinguish from those of her fellow appellate judges, perhaps that's not surprising in a genre so heavily constrained by legal precedents. It's often in dissents that appellate judges can express their true selves--their passions, judicial philosophies, and unique views of the law. And Sotomayor's little-noticed dissents are clearly the opinions in which she has the greatest personal investment. Unlike her majority opinions, her dissents sometimes show flashes of civil-libertarian passion or indignation, even as they remain closely grounded in facts and precedents. Most important, they are substantively bold, staking out unequivocal liberal positions--from a broad reading of the Americans with Disabilities Act to sympathy for the due-process rights of a mentally ill defendant.

Sotomayor, who published 226 majority opinions on the merits during her more than ten years on the appellate court, published only 21 dissents--a rate slightly below average for appellate judges. Although not always ideologically predictable, they are far more liberal than her majority opinions: According to Stefanie A. Lindquist of the University of Texas, Austin, 63 percent of her dissents can be characterized as liberal, as opposed to 38 percent of her majority opinions. (Only five of the 21 dissents are clearly conservative.) It's in these dissents that a different view of Sotomayor emerges: a judge who can be both crusading and open-minded. . . .

Even if Sotomayor may not turn out to be a master of internal court politics in the style of Obama's judicial hero, Earl Warren, her dissenting opinions suggest that she could play a different but still useful role: a strong voice for civil liberties, and economic and social justice--sometimes in the majority, sometimes in dissent. The fact that the Roberts Court currently has no liberal justice who consistently plays this role is all the more reason to welcome the addition of her voice. As Frank Cross puts it: "She may not have been my first choice, but she's a good choice. Her dissenting opinions look liberal but not knee-jerk, and she goes against the grain sometimes; she issued a few significant conservative decisions." And the politics of her appointment are so overwhelming that they're difficult to resist. For these reasons, conservatives will have a hard time attacking her as judicial ideologue, and Democrats can vote for her with hope and expectation.