Sonia Sotomayor talks about the new dynamic of having 4 women on the Supreme Court


Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor said Thursday that having four women on the Supreme Court – the first time the high court has had so many women justices – has affected the “quality of the conversation.”

Increasing the share of women on the bench makes the conversation less adversarial and collegial, she added.

“As women, we don’t all think alike. We don’t all work the same way,” Sotomayor said at Roosevelt University in Chicago.

Ketanji Brown became the sixth woman in Jackson’s history to be confirmed in April. Elena Kagan and Amy Coney Barrett join Jackson and Sotomayor as the four women currently serving.

“Ketanji Brown Jackson just joined us. I can’t talk about what those changes will be. But I hope there will be some,” Sotomayor said.

During the interview, which took questions from retired Justice Ann Claire Williams and students in the audience, the liberal Sotomayor also used warm words to describe her relationship with Justice Clarence Thomas, one of the court’s staunchest conservatives.

“I disagree with him more than any other justice, which means we don’t get along on many cases,” he admitted.

But, Sotomayor said, she has seen Thomas care about people during her time with him.

“I can say that I spend time with him, understanding that he is one of the few judges who knows almost everyone in our building. He knows their name, he knows things about their lives, what their family is suffering. He will say to me: ‘You know that person’s wife is sick right now, or that person’s child is having difficulties’”.

Sotomayor said Thomas tries to be as polite as he is, but “does better.”

“I try to find the good in everyone. If I treat them like people who have good things inside, because they can feel it. They can feel that there are things I value inside. And they are ready to talk to me.”

Sotomayor explained how while she may like Thomas’ humanity, she strongly disagrees on the legal issues.

“He sees these legal problems much differently than I do. I tell people, you know, Clarence believes that – like him, because he grew up very, very poor – that everybody’s capable of picking themselves up from the start. I understand that some people can’t get to their triggers. That is a fundamental difference in what the law can do for people or what it should do or what it does, but I can appreciate it.”

Until then, Sotomayor asked students not to give up on the issues they care about.

“If you feel out of balance and let other people fight for what they think is right and you’re not willing to stand up and fight for what you think is right, you’re just giving it to them,” he said. “You are walking away and not giving yourselves or the world a chance to get better. And I won’t do that. You know, I won’t do it.”