Liberal Justice Sotomayor Says US Supreme Court’s ‘Mistakes’ Can Be Corrected

WASHINGTON, June 16 (Reuters) – Liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor said on Thursday that the U.S. Supreme Court’s “mistakes” in high-profile cases can be corrected over time as she strikes a positive tone before a decision in which his conservative majority should restrict the right to abortion.

Sotomayor, speaking in Washington at the annual meeting of a liberal legal group, did not directly address the release last month of a leaked draft opinion in the abortion case or in the one of the other pending court cases. But Sotomayor said she believes the court can help people “regain public trust” in government institutions.

The leaked draft decision, written by conservative judge Samuel Alito, indicated that the court’s conservative majority is set to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade who legalized abortion nationwide. The court has a 6-3 conservative majority, with Sotomayor being one of three liberal justices.

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“Institutions are made by humans. Because we are human, out of necessity we make mistakes. That’s the nature of human enterprise,” Sotomayor said at the American Constitution Society meeting.

When asked why leftist lawyers should have hope, Sotomayor said they had no choice but to fight.

“There are days when I get discouraged, there are times when I’m deeply disappointed,” she said. “Every time I do that, I lick my wounds for a while, sometimes I cry, then I say, ‘Let’s fight.'”

Sotomayor noted that it took nearly a century for the court to overturn Dred Scott’s notorious 1857 decision that declared the US Constitution did not apply to enslaved black people. She noted that it also took until 1954 for the court to issue its Brown v. Board of Education which struck down racial segregation in education, reversing an 1896 decision in Plessy v. Ferguson allowing “separate but equal” treatment of the races.

“Dred Scott lost his 11-year battle for freedom in court. … Still, he won the war,” Sotomayor said. “That’s why I think we need to have continued faith in the justice system, in our system of government, in our ability…hopefully not through war…to continue the battle every day to regain the public’s trust. “

The draft notice sparked a political storm, with abortion-rights supporters staging rallies outside the courthouse and in locations across the United States, as well as an internal crisis within the top court from the country. Chief Justice John Roberts ordered an investigation into the source of the unprecedented disclosure, which is still ongoing.

The draft opinion would uphold a restrictive Mississippi law banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy and overturn Roe v. Wade.

Sotomayor, who has served on the court since 2009, spoke of the importance of believing that when people do “bad things” it doesn’t mean they are “bad people”.

She also cited her friendship with conservative judge Clarence Thomas.

“I suspect I probably disagreed with him more than any other judge,” Sotomayor said. “And yet Judge Thomas is the only judge in the building who literally knows the name of every employee.”

“He is a man who cares deeply about the court as an institution, about the people who work there,” Sotomayor added.

Speaking at a court conference in Atlanta last month, Thomas struck a different tone, saying the court shouldn’t be “bullied into only giving you the results you want”. Read more

The court is due to deliver its decision in the abortion case by the end of June, along with decisions in 17 other cases. The court also has important cases to decide on gun rights, climate change, immigration and religious freedom.

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Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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