Justice Sotomayor bemoans lack of diverse backgrounds on top court

4:31 p.m Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018 Education
A signed copy of “My Beloved World,” by United States Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, is purchased before she speaks with Emory University law professor Fred Smith Jr. at Emory University’s Glenn Memorial Auditorium, Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018. ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor brought her campaign to get Americans more involved in civics to Atlanta on Tuesday and lamented the lack of diversity on the court in some areas.

Sotomayor, in a question-and answer session at Emory University, explained she wrote her book “My Beloved World,” in part to share her story about how others helped her succeed.

“I knew then and I know now that I am not self-made, because no one is. Have you ever heard titans of business who talk about being self-made?” Sotomayor said to laughter and then applause, in what was largely seen as a reference to President Donald Trump.

“We all laughed because we knew who she was talking about,” said Emory University Law School staffer Danny Kim.

Trump has reportedly said he expects to replace Sotomayor on the court because of her health. Sotomayor has diabetes, but has not indicated any retirement plans.

Kim added that he appreciated Sotomayor’s comments throughout the hour-long discussion about the importance of working with people who have different viewpoints.

Sotomayor, 63, the first Hispanic justice on the court, walked the aisles of Emory’s Glenn Memorial Auditorium, shaking hands with many audience members throughout the discussion attended by about 1,200 students, judges and other guests.

When asked about diversity on the court, Sotomayor noted all nine justices attended Ivy League colleges, none have experience in immigration or environmental law and only one, Anthony Kennedy, has criminal defense experience.

“None of this should make a difference, but I happen to believe that it does,” she said. “It’s the quality of the conversation. It’s a richer, broader conversation when you have people from difference experiences participating.”

Third-year Emory law student Meredith Barnett said she appreciated the justice’s comments.

“I thought she was very inspiring and heartfelt about what the Supreme Court lacks in diversity,” she said.

Sotomayor urged those in her audience to get involved in their communities, discussing a program she’s involved in aimed primarily at helping middle school students with language difficulties improve their reading skills. Civic engagement is a theme she has relayed in speeches in other cities.

Ten-year-old Ava Mason, who came to the discussion with her mother, Erica, president of the Hispanic National Bar Association, was greeted with a hug from Sotomayor. She called the moment “cool.”

“She’a a great Latina lawyer,” Ava said of Sotomayor.