Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor
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Justice Sonia Sotomayor said Supreme Court justices lack diverse legal experiences.
“When Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed, we lost our only civil rights lawyer,” Sotomayor said.
“I do worry that the authorities who are selecting judges are not paying enough attention to that kind of diversity as well,” she added.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor on Wednesday discussed how the nine Supreme Court justices are “greatly missing” diverse legal experiences.
“When Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed, we lost our only civil rights lawyer,” Sotomayor said during a virtual event for the fifth anniversary of the New York University School of Law’s Center for Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging.
Nobody on the bench has “been in the trenches on civil rights issues, whether it’s on women’s rights, racial rights, or even disability rights,” she continued, adding that the justices also don’t have backgrounds in immigration, environmental or criminal defense law either, besides some “white-collar work.”
Most justices previously held jobs as judicial clerks, law professors and deans, and legal counsel to politicians, to name a few. Some of the justices have had practice in commercial law and media law for private firms and in civil and criminal law for the government.
Sotomayor mentioned that her colleagues may not agree with her sentiment, but raised the issue as a cause for concern, considering that the court reviews “so many areas of law” and its decisions “impact in such tremendous ways.”
“I do worry that the authorities who are selecting judges are not paying enough attention to that kind of diversity as well,” she added. “That kind of diversity – diversity in experience – is something that I think we are sorely missing.”
Sotomayor’s comments come as the court kicked off its new term last week, which features a number of important cases on the docket, including challenges to abortion rights and gun laws.
President Joe Biden has acknowledged criticisms that the federal courts lack professional diversity and has so far tried to address those gaps by nominating judges of various legal backgrounds.
His first list of judicial nominees released in March featured “attorneys who have excelled in the legal field in a wide range of positions, including as renowned jurists, public defenders, prosecutors, in the private sector, in the military, and as public servants at all levels of government,” the White House said.
Biden has also boosted the racial and gender diversity of the courts by appointing more people of color and women. That comes after former President Donald Trump worsened representation in the federal judiciary as he selected mostly white judges to serve. His three Supreme Court picks – Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and Barrett – are also white.
Sotomayor on Wednesday spoke about the struggles that people of color face in society and about her role as the first woman of color and the first Latina on the court.
“If you are a person of color, you have to work harder than everybody else to succeed,” she said. “It’s just the point of life. It’s the nature of – the competitive nature of our society – where you have to prove yourself every day.”
“I don’t know that I feel any greater pressure than I have in doing anything in my life,” Sotomayor added. “That means for me, that in every opinion I write, I know I have to give it my best.”