What Do Spending Habits Tell Us About Being A Supreme Court Justice?

As most people know, President Obama recently tapped Sonia Sotomayer to be the next Supreme Court Justice. There’s been quite a bit of discussion regarding her legal theories, recent comments on white men and Latina women and her overall ability to do the job. I personally doubt that she is terribly dangerous even though she probably would vote for things I disapprove of (Roe v Wade and gun control). She doesn’t strike me as a lightning rod of progressive, Living Constitution types and so, overall, she’s not too scary to me and thus, not to interesting either.

However, I ran across something today that I do find interesting about her. Last week, she filed the required questionnaire which happens to include a fairly detailed description of her financial situation. She makes approximately $175K a year and while she has a substantial valuation on an apartment she owns in NY, she appears to have no substantial retirement savings at all. She also has almost $16K in credit card bills and $15K in dental bills outstanding.

Looking at her situation, it turns out that federal judges can retire at age 55 and still get a pension worth 85% of their working salary adjusted for inflation plus free medical care for the entire family. So I suppose that isn’t surprising that she hasn’t seen fit to save anything for retirement. $170K a year to be retired is nothing to sneeze at. Of course, that doesn’t explain the large amount of outstanding, short term debt but we’ll let that slide. However, federal pension notwithstanding, what does this tell us about Judge Sotomayor? Could it be useful in determining how she might rule on cases that come before her?

I think it clearly shows that she is a spender, not a saver. How might that affect how she rules? Well, right off the bat, we know she isn’t at all concerned with disasters or tragedies. Most financial planners say that you should have 6 months worth of expenses in an emergency savings fund. It’s difficult to tell what her expenses are but assuming she’s got an approximately $6000 monthly mortgage payment (based on the $381K mortgage plus a 4% property tax which may be high since I’m sure the NY income tax makes up for the property taxes I’m used to here in Texas) plus another $4000 in various expenses, she’s about $70K short in her cash fund. It’s not too great of a leap to believe that since she is uninterested in preparing for a disaster and instead relies on the the goodwill of the government, she might also be sympathetic to people who are equally uninterested in being prepared when a disaster occurs in their life.

Again, it’s important to note that federal judges aren’t likely to show up to work one day and find a pink slip. However, the fact that she doesn’t have much of an emergency fund at all tells us that she probably isn’t one to think about the future. The question has never crossed her mind of what she would do if the U.S. government ceased to exist. Or if Congress, if able, changed the pension plan for federal judges. Perhaps she has made a rational decision that because she has a guaranteed pension, she can spend all the money she wants. More likely thoug, she is by nature a spender. These people live paycheck to paycheck with little regard for any preparation for unforeseen events. This is troubling because at the very least, I would hope that she would rationally consider what her rulings on the Court might affect far down the line before making a decision.

On top of that, even if she has made that rational decision, it means that she is perfectly happy living on the government dole for the rest of her days. This also tells us something about her character. It tells us that she believes in the role of government to provide for people even if they are able to provide for themselves. I think it probably shows that she is likely to lean towards defendants even if their case is weak.

Overall, all of this is circumstantial and certainly nothing that couldn’t be determined using other more reliable methods like examining her judicial history. However, I would certainly prefer someone who was a great deal more concerned about being able to provide for herself even if the government stopped providing for her. It tells me that she is likely to decide for cases that reward spenders, thus instituting law that continues our reliance on the American consumer as the foundation for our economy, something that I think is unsustainable. She is also likely to decide for plaintiffs who may be injured through some fault of their own because she does not subscribe to any belief that an individual is responsible for his actions, both short and long term. In general, it makes me nervous regarding cases involving financial matters because hers are so obviously broken.

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