Class of ’83 alum seeks appointment to court of appeals

Williams College graduate Jeffrey Sutton ’83 is expected to be confirmed by the United States Senate this week to serve on the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati. A vote on the nomination is scheduled to take place today.

Sutton graduated with honors from Williams before going on to the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, where he graduated first in his class. He has just completed a 3-year term on the Executive Committee of the Society of Alumni, and is president of the Williams College regional association for Columbus, Ohio.

In an editorial yesterday, The New York Times said Sutton was the latest example of the Bush Administration’s desire to find “nominees whose main qualification is a commitment to far-right ideology.”

According to the Times, Sutton is an activist for “federalism,” which the editorial describes as a “euphemism for a rigid states’-rights legal philosophy.”

Gary Jacobsohn, professor of political science and an expert on constitutional law, knows Sutton personally. “[He is an] admirable, decent person who I suspect, once he’s on the court, will serve both honorably and well, even though I disagree with him on the specific issue he’s become associated with,” Jacobsohn said.

Jacobsohn said it is regrettable that federalism, which he described as a “debatable jurisprudential position,” is often portrayed politically as a kind of hostility to the powerless in society.

“Knowing him, I doubt he is heartless and cruel in the manner he is being portrayed,” Jacobsohn said. “But he is at the forefront of a position which he has argued before the Court on several occasions.”

Sutton is a partner in Jones Day’s Columbus Law Office, where he specializes in commercial, constitutional and appellate litigation. He has argued 12 cases before the United States Supreme Court over the last four years. He also served as Ohio State’s Solicitor – the top litigator in the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.

The Times accused Sutton of “taking the law in a disturbing direction, depriving minorities, women and the disabled of important rights.” In 2001, Sutton defended the University of Alabama in a lawsuit filed by an employee who claimed she had been fired from her job because she had breast cancer. By a 5-4 majority, the Court ruled in favor of the University, saying that Congress had exceeded its authority by making states financially liable under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Jacobsohn said Sutton’s stance on issues of federalism such as this one are not fringe points of view, but rather “a position that the Court has embraced with a consistent majority over a number of years.”

In January, the American Lawyer Magazine recognized Sutton as one of the nation’s top 45 lawyers under the age of 45.