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Sotomayor Laments Lack of Professional Diversity on High Court

Oct. 13, 2021, 11:03 PM

Justice Sonia Sotomayor lamented the Supreme Court’s lack of professional diversity during a New York University Law School event on Wednesday.

“When Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed, we lost our only civil rights lawyer,” Sotomayor said, appearing remotely at the event marking the fifth anniversary of the school’s center for diversity, inclusion, and belonging.

“That kind of diversity, diversity in experience, is something that I think we are sorely missing,” the Barack Obama appointee said during a conversation with NYU law professor Kenji Yoshino.

The justices lack legal experience with women’s rights, racial rights, disability rights, immigration, environmental law, or criminal defense “outside of perhaps some white collar work,” she said.

Sotomayor is one of the court’s three Democratic appointees after Ginsburg’s 2020 death and, despite being a former prosecutor, she’s sometimes the only justice to side with criminal defendants. Earlier on Wednesday, during oral arguments, she scrutinized the Justice Department’s position in the Boston Marathon bomber case.

“There are so many areas of law that the court touches, and whose decisions impact in such tremendous ways, that I do worry that the authorities who are selecting judges are not paying enough attention to that kind of diversity as well,” Sotomayor said at the NYU event.

President Joe Biden has nominated lower-court judges who are diverse demographically and professionally. Among them is D.C. Circuit Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, a former public defender seen as a front-runner if Biden gets to fill a high-court seat. Progressives have been calling for 83-year-old Justice Stephen Breyer to retire. Jackson would also be the first Black female justice, which Biden said he wants to nominate.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jordan S. Rubin in Washington at jrubin@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Tom P. Taylor at ttaylor@bloomberglaw.com; Seth Stern at sstern@bloomberglaw.com; John Crawley at jcrawley@bloomberglaw.com

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