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Supreme Court Needs Diversity In Many Areas, Sotomayor Says At Davidson College

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United States Supreme Court
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U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor visited Davidson College Thursday. Justice Sotomayor answered questions from students and faculty about the court and other justices – and she didn’t shy away from expressing concern that the court’s lack of diversity in several areas keeps it out of touch.

While Justice Sotomayor encouraged Davidson students to take a wide variety of classes, she criticized the educational diversity of another group of people – the justices on the Supreme Court. All have Ivy League educations, which, in her opinion doesn’t provide a sufficient range of experiences. And she went on:

"We don’t have religious diversity, we have just Catholic and Jews. We have no protestants, no Muslims obviously," says Sotomayor.

Justice Sotomayor points out the lack of geographic diversity – the majority of the justices are from the Northeast. And she points out that none are defense attorneys. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg is the only civil rights lawyer.

 "We have a lot of academics. We have no one except me, with state government experience. Those are bad things."

Her overall message: A more diverse court would give it more credibility.

"It may not effect the outcome because somebody has to win and somebody has to lose. But I think for sense of the people’s sense of justice, you do want them to think whatever the arguments are, it’s going to get an equal hearing on both sides."

Throughout most of the discussion Justice Sotomayor wandered through the crowd and joked with the audience.

"You see all those guys over there and over here and everywhere…if you get up, and do something sudden like getting up or trying to embrace me or something like that…it upsets them."

She was straightforward in answering questions like this one, from a faculty member.

"How can we, both the legal committee and the broader community, do a better job to ensure that criminal defendants have good lawyers who will work to defend them?"

Justice Sotomayor responded with, "We’ve lost that sense that representation is at the core of being a free society."

She says that lawyers have to work at educating the public about the importance of representation. 

"That’s part of my message all the time. Which is that you have to treasure what’s important. And that costs money. And that means other things might not get as much. But we have to do better training, we have to pay a little bit better to attract quality people. And more importantly, we have to set our expectations higher."

Justice Sotomayor says that she thinks of law as a service, in her words, a giving enterprise, and that’s why it satisfies her. She’s been a judge just shy of 25 years, and has been on the supreme court for six. She says it takes time to become a good judge. And she’s still growing.