WASHINGTON — Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor said Tuesday that Americans “can’t afford to despair” in the wake of Donald Trump’s election as president.
Speaking to an audience at a Capitol Hill cultural center, Sotomayor said the nation can’t afford for a president to fail, but stressed that “every person has an obligation both to continue being heard and to continue doing the right thing.”
The justice was responding to a question from radio host Bill Press about whether Trump’s victory made her feel apprehensive. She declined to answer directly, but said people “can’t afford to give up on pursuing the values that we and others have fought so hard to achieve.”
“So for me this is a challenge,” she said. “I will continue doing what I think is the right thing.”
Sotomayor spoke as protesters in several cities — including the nation’s capital — have marched against Trump’s win. Demonstrators have condemned Trump’s behavior toward women and his stand on immigration and civil liberties among other things.
“It is true for those who tell us that we have to support that which he does which is right, and help guide him to those right decisions whichever way we can want to do that,” she said of Trump.
Sotomayor is the first of President Barack Obama’s two appointees to the high court. Part of the court’s liberal wing, she is known as a powerful critic of police misconduct and a strong defender of affirmative action.
Asked whether the court has been handicapped having only eight justices since the death in February of Justice Antonin Scalia, she said it’s “not an ideal situation.” But Sotomayor said the justices worked hard to come to a consensus when they could and split 4-4 in only four cases.
Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland for Scalia’s seat, but Senate Republicans refused to consider him, saying it should be up to the next president. The gambit paid off when Trump won the presidential race.
Sotomayor said in some cases, the court simply avoided the larger question and resolved disputes on narrower grounds. She said that doesn’t help when lower courts are split on important issues and are looking to the high court for answers.
“We function better as nine because we can then resolve the questions that we need to,” she said.
Trump has pledged to fill the empty seat with a judge in the mold of Scalia, keeping in place the court’s conservative tilt.
Despite their ideological differences, Sotomayor said she considered Scalia a friend with a great sense of humor who was fun to be around. She said they respected each other and found common ground in several areas of the law, including the rights of criminal defendants.
She noted that one reason for justices to get along is practical.
“The person you are fighting against today, you may need for a vote tomorrow,” she said.