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Sotomayor discusses election and eight-member court

At the start of an interview with Justice Sonia Sotomayor last night at the Hill Center, Bill Press alluded to the “800-pound gorilla in the room,” asking the justice whether she was apprehensive about the results of last Tuesday’s election. Sotomayor reacted cautiously, stating that “we can’t afford for a president to fail” and that “we have to support that which he does which is right and help guide him to those right decisions.”

“But we can’t afford to despair,” the justice continued, “and we can’t afford to give up on pursuing the values that we and others have fought so hard to achieve. And for me, this is a challenge. So I’m going to continue doing what I think is the right thing. That’s the challenge we all have to face.”

Press next asked whether having eight members has handicapped the court. Sotomayor responded that, although the eight justices largely succeeded at coming to a consensus in most close cases last term after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, the current situation can result in the law “being applied differently across the country.” In her opinion, the court “function[s] better as nine.”

Sotomayor then spoke about Scalia, her “dear colleague and friend,” recalling times when he would sing songs from his childhood at conference or indulge in oysters at their favorite local restaurant. Asked how they got along despite differences in opinion, Sotomayor joked that “we were both avid Yankees fans, so there had to be some good, right?”

Much of the rest of the interview was spent discussing Sotomayor’s life, including her personal experiences with affirmative action in college and sexism throughout her career. During the Q&A portion of the event, Sotomayor moved around the room, interacting with audience members and posing for pictures. She spoke fondly of retired Justice John Paul Stevens, whom she regarded as her mentor. She said that Stevens “taught me to have the courage to speak when I thought speaking was important, even if others didn’t agree.”

Asked how women facing gender bias in the workplace should respond, Sotomayor answered that there is no “magic pill,” and instead discussed different instances of gender bias she had faced and what approaches she had taken each time to confront the issue.

In a particularly poignant moment, a young woman named Jessica, a security guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art who had traveled from New York just to see Sotomayor speak after reading her book, asked, “What would your advice be when you are feeling sometimes hopeless or discouraged in any aspect or spectrum of your life?”

Not noticeably taken aback by the personal nature of the question, Sotomayor talked about growing up with diabetes. Believing that the disease would shorten her  lifespan, Sotomayor packed as much into her life as she could “as fast as I could,” she recalled. Every night, she continued, she asks herself two questions: “What new thing did I learn today?” and “What good thing have I done for somebody else today?” Sotomayor advised, “don’t give up, good luck,” before the two shared a hug.

Recommended Citation: Molly Runkle, Sotomayor discusses election and eight-member court, SCOTUSblog (Nov. 16, 2016, 10:56 AM),