The liberal-leaning supreme court justice Sonia Sotomayor said on Thursday that US supreme court “mistakes” in high-profile cases can be corrected over time – as she adopted a positive tone ahead of a decision in which its conservative majority is expected to reverse the constitutional right abortion in America.
Sotomayor, speaking in Washington DC at the annual meeting of a liberal legal group, did not directly address last month’s publication of a leaked draft opinion in a key abortion case out of Mississippi that includes a request to overturn the pivotal 1973 Roe v Wade ruling, or any of the court’s other current cases.
Ma Sotomayor said she believed the court can help people “regain the public’s confidence” in government institutions.
The leaked draft ruling, authored by the conservative associate justice Samuel Alito, indicated that the court’s conservative majority is set to overturn the opinion that legalized abortion nationwide.
The court has a 6-3 conservative majority, with Sotomayor one of only three liberal-leaning justices after Donald Trump got to nominate three conservative-leaning judges during his administration.
“Institutions are made up by humans. Because we are human, by necessity we make mistakes. It is the nature of the human enterprise,” Sotomayor told the American Constitution Society meeting.
Asked why lawyers on the left should have hope, Sotomayor said they had no choice but to fight.
“There are days I get discouraged, there are moments where I am deeply disappointed," lei disse. “Every time I do that, I lick my wounds for a while, sometimes I cry, and then I say: ‘Let’s fight.’”
Sotomayor noted that it took almost a century for the court to undo the notorious 1857 Dred Scott decision that declared that the US constitution did not apply to Black people.
She noted that it also took until 1954 for the court to issue its Brown v Board of Education ruling that struck down racial segregation in education, undoing an 1896 ruling in the case called Plessy v Ferguson allowing “separate but equal” treatment of the races.
“Dred Scott lost his 11-year battle for freedom in the courts … Yet he won the war,” Sotomayor said. “So that’s why I think we have to have continuing faith in the court system, in our system of government, in our ability … I hope not through war … towards continuing the battle each day to regain the public’s confidence.”
The draft opinion on the Mississippi abortion case set off a political firestorm, with abortion rights supporters staging rallies outside the courthouse and at locations around the US, as well as an internal crisis at the nation’s top judicial body.
Chief Justice John Roberts ordered an investigation into the source of the unprecedented disclosure, which is still under way.
Sotomayor, who has served on the court since 2009, spoke of the importance of believing that when people do “wrong things” it does not mean they are “bad people”.