WASHINGTON – Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor said the United States cannot afford for the next president to “fail” and told an audience that completely “strict” constitutionalist judges are not around any longer.
Sotomayor was asked if she is in any way “apprehensive” about the presidential election results.
“I’m going to demure from answering that question that way. I will answer it in a different way, which is, I think that this is the time where every good person has an obligation both to continue being heard and to continue doing the right thing. We can’t afford for a president to fail and it is true for those who tell us that we have to support that which he does which is right and help guide him to those right decisions in whichever way we can find to do that,” she told moderator Bill Press at a Hill Center event Nov 15.
“But we can’t afford to despair, and we can’t afford to give up our pursuing of values that we and others have fought so hard to achieve, and so for me this is a challenge. So I’m going to continue doing what I think is the right thing, and it’s a challenge we all have to face and maintain,” she added.
Sotomayor, nominated to the Supreme Court by President Obama in 2009, was also asked how she separates her life experiences from her decisions on cases.
“There are justices who are closer to the strict originalist, but even those have veered away from it strictly because a society does change. Our precedents have had 200 years of creating experiences within the law that you can’t ignore, and so even the strict originalists have made exceptions – so have those who believe themselves to being living constitutionalist theorists,” she said.
“We have to go back to understand what our forefathers meant to be able to give a framework answer to a new problem. I don’t think there’s really any strict person completely that I’ve ran into anymore,” the justice added.
Sotomayor, author of the memoir My Beloved World, said life experiences impact a judge’s decision-making process in many ways.
“But the most important is in understanding the impact of law on people and that you can’t ignore, and it’s why you need diversity on the court as you do in every human endeavor because to be able to understand the arguments of everyone involved before you, you need people who can present those arguments with clarity,” she said.
As an example, Sotomayor cited a case of a “no drug” school that strip-searched a 13-year-old female student for allegedly taking an aspirin on the property. Sotomayor said the student’s parents were not notified before the search.
“One or more of my colleagues analogized the strip-search to undressing in a locker room – basically, how much different was it? All right? My colleague Justice Ginsberg was criticized for this, but at one point she was overheard to have said, ‘I don’t think some of my colleagues understand what it’s like to be a 13-year-old girl and how sensitive a child is to their personal integrity,’” she said.
“Now, do I think that changed any votes? I wasn’t there, remember. Unlikely. Do I think there was value from the fact that no opinion in that case analogized the search to a locker-room situation? Yes, I think there’s value to that and so, yes, your experiences. And it happens, someone in an opinion uses a word that’s offensive to certain groups and it’s not a question of political correctness, it’s a question of unknowing injury,” she added.
Sotomayor continued, “You should not do things from ignorance, and I think having justices with different experiences helps ensure that we as an institution are not doing things from ignorance.”