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Sotomayor says SCOTUS lacks diverse life experience

March 16, 2015

Justice Sonia Sotomayor says the Supreme Court of the United States has too many law professors, too many Ivy Leaguers, too many East Coasters and a lack of diverse life experience.

"It's a real problem," Sotomayor said last week at North Carolina's Davidson College.

The outcome of cases might be no different if experiences on the court were more varied, yet diversity is very important, Sotomayor said during a 45-minute question-and-answer session marked by her signature stroll through the audience and picture-taking with the questioners.

"The breadth of experience ensures that in every single case, people are going to ignore an approach, an argument, a point of view simply because they don't understand it. It ensures that every argument is aired," Sotomayor said. Sotomayor is one of three women on the current court, as well as the first Latina justice.

The justices have sparse experience in civil rights, state law and smaller legal practices, Sotomayor said.

"My colleagues think it doesn't make a difference, but I think the absence of life experience generally on the court is a bad thing," she said. Also on her list: the lack of anything other than Catholics and Jews.

Sotomayor said that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is her only colleague with civil rights experience, while Anthony Kennedy is the only member of the court who was in a small, varied legal practice before becoming a judge. Sotomayor is the only justice with a state law background.

State criminal law cases are a big part of the Supreme Court's docket, and she said she is struck that her colleagues don't always know the difference between the federal and state systems.

"Sometimes they imagine differences and sometimes they don't appreciate the real ones," she said.

The college posted video of the event online.

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