[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/07/15/art.toobin.cnn.jpg caption="CNN Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin calls Judge Sonia Sotomayor 'a cautious, careful liberal.'"]
By Jeffrey Toobin
CNN Senior Analyst
(CNN) - One of the enduring myths about Supreme Court justices is that they often turn out to "surprise" the presidents who appoint them. Sure-thing conservatives, it is said, turn out to be liberals, and vice versa. In fact, the evidence is almost entirely the opposite: that with justices, as in life, what you see is what you get.
The question, then, is this: What do you see when you look at Sonia Sotomayor, who begins her confirmation hearings as a strong favorite for confirmation?
She is, above all, a veteran judge who has 18 years on the federal bench: six as a trial judge (appointed by President George H.W. Bush) and the rest on the court of appeals (appointed by President Clinton). The question of competence is closed. Sotomayor can do the job. It's no surprise that she received a unanimous rating of well-qualified from the American Bar Association screening committee.
But what would she stand for as a Supreme Court justice? She is, it seems, a liberal, but a liberal in the cautious and careful mode of her likely future colleagues Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer.
Her leanings are clearest in the case of affirmative action. As a political and constitutional matter, she believes government can take steps to assure a diverse work force or student body.
This view was on display in the most famous (or infamous) decision of her career.
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