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Flashback Five – Movie Recommendations for Supreme Court Justice-to-Be Sonia Sotomayor

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Justice Sotomayor… Can we call you Sonia? Sonia, as the press rolls out the red carpet for you as President Obama’s first Supreme Court nominee, it’s important to remember that ruling over the top court in America isn’t all glitz and glamour. Beyond the long approval process, as the first Latina woman appointed in the history of the US (kudos!), you’ll have to tread carefully, as your legacy will cast a long shadow. No worries though: As any ravenous movie fan can attest, there’s a few easy courtroom pitfalls you can avoid. All you need is a healthy attitude, a DVD player, and the movies listed right here in Flashback Five.

1. Amistad (1997)
In Steven Spielberg’s nineteenth century-set drama, a slave ship rebellion propels one man’s trial for freedom to the U.S. Supreme Court. Arguing that their rebellion was no different than the American Revolution, John Quincy Adams (Anthony Hopkins) convinces the Justices to let the prisoner go and return to his homeland. Though Sotomayor probably won’t have any cases tried by former Presidents, the best lesson learned here is, “Follow the lessons of the past.”

2. The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996)
The Hustler publisher (portrayed in the movie by Woody Harrelson) brought free speech to the attention of the country by publishing what then-minister Jerry Falwell thought was a libelous cartoon about his sexual relations with his mother. Flynt triumphs in the name of parody law, and goes on to fight for free speech the rest of his life. With the country continuing to divide itself over the definition of what constitutes obscenity, Sotomayor would do well to study up on the arguments presented in Hustler Magazine vs. Falwell.

3. Judge Dredd (1995)
In the future, Judges like Judge Dredd (Sylvester Stallone) are the law, acting as cop, judge, jury and executioner. In one notable case, Judge Dredd killed Mean Machine Angel by electrocuting him with a broken cable. The take-away lessons here? Um, don’t let the power go to your head; and Rob Schneider shouldn’t be in any more action movies.

4. JFK (1991)
Oliver Stone’s thriller brought the JFK assassination to the national and legal forefront once again by re-examining the official version of his murder: While trying businessman Clay Shaw (Tommy Lee Jones) for his alleged participation in the conspiracy, Kevin Costner’s Jim Garrison runs through all the possible inaccuracies in the Warren Report. Shaw is acquitted, though the jury believes there may have been a coup d’etat. If there’s one thing a judge can take from this movie, it’s that one must never dismiss a good conspiracy theory, if only for its entertainment value.

5. Inherit the Wind (1960)
In the climactic scene of the 1960’s classic, the Scopes “Monkey” Trial comes to a head with Spencer Tracy’s lawyer defending a teacher who dared to teach evolution. He declares that both evolution and creation are possible, because since there was no time before god created it, the seven days of creation might have well been seven billion years. The movie was also a parable for the McCarthy trials of the 1960s, so the point is, prejudice reared its ugly head in 1925 and 1960, and it ain’t going away any time soon. Buckle your seatbelt, Sotomayor.

Honorable Mentions:

1. The Reader (2008) – If there’s a former Nazi that comes before the court who refuses to give you her signature, check to see if she’s illiterate.

2. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007) – Never send a man to jail just so you can marry his wife (and then, possibly, daughter), or you’ll be made into a pie.

3. The Rainmaker (1997) – If you refuse to take a case from Matt Damon, you may have a heart attack in your swimming pool.

4. Judgment at Nuremberg (1961) – Be careful how you defend yourself at a judges’ trial, or you may sentence yourself to death.

5. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) – When a man is falsely accused of rape, you should make sure he has good protection… and that there’s no possibility of escape.

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