Sotomayor on how addiction in her family impacts her sentencing

January 14th, 2014

Interesting comments from an interview on NPR:

I watched my father, who I knew loved me, kill himself with alcohol; I watched a cousin [Nelson] whom I adored … this person who had an enormous talent and a great intelligence … destroy himself and affect his family with a great deal of pain by ultimately killing himself with drug use.

That has always permitted me … as a judge … to understand that the people who came before me as defendants were human beings with good and potentially very bad things within them. It was not unusual for defendants to have families who depended on them, who loved them, who thought the world of them, even though they had done horrific things. …

When I was being nominated to the [U.S.] Court of Appeals, I was asked [by] the Senate to give them a record of how often I had departed from the then-mandatory sentencing guidelines. And judges were permitted under certain circumstances to depart downward, give a lesser sentence, or depart upwards, give a higher sentence than the guidelines called for. I was shocked to find that I gave less downward departures, lesser sentences, and more greater sentences than the national average. …

I think because of my experiences, however, I could treat that person in my courtroom as an individual and not as a nonentity and at the same time hold them responsible for their acts.

I’ve read that Justice Kennedy dealt with drug addiction in his family, and this has impacted his views on drug laws (and perhaps Gonzales v. Raich).