The Volokh Conspiracy

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Supreme Court

Justice Sotomayor Defends Justice Thomas

In remarks to the American Constitution Society, Justice Sonia Sotomayor shares her thoughts on the senior-most Associate Justice.


Yesterday, Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor addressed the annual conference of the American Constitution Society. Her remarks were covered in the New York TimesCNN, and Huffington Post.  Video of the remarks is available here.

As noted in the NYT report, Justice Sotomayor defended the Court.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor urged an audience of progressive lawyers on Thursday not to give up on the Supreme Court.

"We have to have continuing faith in the court system and our system of government," she said, adding that she hoped "to regain the public's confidence that we — as a court, as an institution — have not lost our way."

A justice speaking in defense of the Court as an institution is not all that surprising. Perhaps more notably, she also came to the defense of her colleague, Justice Clarence Thomas. Again from the NYT report:

Justice Sotomayor singled out Justice Thomas for praise. "He is a man who cares deeply about the court as an institution," she said, adding that he is a beloved figure there.

"Justice Thomas is the one justice in the building that literally knows every employee's name," she said.

Justice Sotomayor said her interactions with Justice Thomas have been instructive. "I suspect I have probably disagreed with him more than with any other justice," she said.

"He has a different vision than I do about how to help people and about their responsibilities to help themselves," she said. "Justice Thomas believes that every person can pull themselves up by their bootstraps. I believe that some people can't get to their bootstraps without help.

"That's a very different philosophy of life, but I think we share a common understanding about people and kindness towards them," she said. "That's why I can be friends with him and still continue our daily battle over our difference of opinions in cases."