SANTA FE – Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor delivered an impassioned plea to an admiring audience to get involved in politics and legislative elections during a public appearance at a private college perched in the hills of northern New Mexico.
Sotomayor walked the aisles of an auditorium, clasping hands with scores of people while fielding questions about judicial philosophy and describing her hard-scrabble upbringing in a Bronx tenement. Questions about current political affairs were off limits, St. John’s College President Mark Roosevelt noted, though it didn’t stop one woman from asking about a pending decision on immigration.
“We hear the politicians talking. How many of you have made your voices heard?” Sotomayor said. “Listen to me. Please don’t forget, laws don’t just happen to you. Laws are made and they’re made by the people you elect. So you have a voice, exercise it.”
Sotomayor was part of a unanimous vote last week that endorsed election maps that bolster the growing political influence of America’s Latinos, ruling that states can count everyone, not just eligible voters, in drawing voting districts.
In Santa Fe, she gave an unapologetic tribute to the Constitution as a living document in the complex age of surveillance and aerial drones.
“I don’t know that we need any new Constitutional principles,” she said. “We just need to better understand how those values can be given meaning in a much more complex society.”
More than 700 people turned up to listen to Sotomayor. Many clung to signed copies of the justice’s memoir and expressed a special affinity and admiration for the high court’s first Latina justice, who is of Puerto Rican descent. Over 45 percent of New Mexico residents identify themselves as Hispanic or Latino, outnumbering Anglos in the state of 2.1 million residents.
Janell Guzman of Albuquerque arrived two-and-a-half hours early to ensure her seat and said she was “really just here to listen and learn her (Sotomayor’s) story.”
Sotomayor talked about her go-to books and authors – “Don Quixote,” Shakespeare and the Bible – and how her fear of death from being diagnosed with diabetes as a 7-year-old child propelled her work ethic and success.
Left unspoken at the event was Sotomayor’s ongoing experience on a court with eight justices, amid a push by most Senate Republican to delay the confirmation of federal appeals court Judge Merrick Garland until after the November presidential election.