Mar 14, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Justices Barrett, Sotomayor promote civility despite ideological differences

Side-by-side photos of Supreme Court Justices Amy Coney Barrett and Sonia Sotomayor

Supreme Court Justices Amy Coney Barrett and Sonia Sotomayor. Photos: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Supreme Court Justices Amy Coney Barrett and Sonia Sotomayor together are promoting civility, saying the nation's highest court can serve as a model for the country in regard to civil debate.

Why it matters: Their unity comes at a time when the Supreme Court faces extremely low approval ratings and is under intense scrutiny, especially in regard to decisions about the political fate of presumptive Republican nominee, former President Trump.

By the numbers: Over seven in 10 voters felt that their personal values were under attack, according to a September poll from the Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service.

  • Meanwhile, 94% of voters agreed that "respect for each other is the first step in having a government that works," per the poll.
  • Similarly, 89% of voters agreed that "civility is the language of respect."

The big picture: Barrett and Sotomayor differ ideologically, but they emphasized the importance of civility at a conference in D.C. this week.

  • Despite their unity, their own disagreements have been under the spotlight in recent weeks.

Zoom in: Barrett criticized Sotomayor in regard to the court's recent unanimous ruling that Trump cannot be barred from Colorado's primary ballot under the 14th Amendment.

  • The court's three liberal justices — Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson — argued in a concurring opinion that the decision went too far and that it could "insulate" Trump from "future controversy."
  • Though Barrett agreed with the content of the three justices' opinion, she criticized their tone, saying: "In my judgment, this is not the time to amplify disagreement with stridency."

What they're saying: "We don't speak in a hot way in our conferences. We do not raise voices, no matter how hot-button the case. We always speak with respect," Barrett said at the conference regarding civics education.

  • "We do not interrupt one another, and we never raise voices, and it would be a big violation of norms to do so," she added.
  • Sotomayor echoed a similar sentiment and noted that within public discourse "there's a lot of personal attacks on people's character."
  • "I really don't ever feel that a disagreement among [the Supreme Court justices] involves our character," Sotomayor said. "We are all people of good faith. We are all very passionate about the work we do."

Zoom out: Just 40% of adults approve of the Supreme Court's job performance, compared to 60% who disapprove, according to a Marquette Law School poll from last month.

Go deeper: Supreme Court hands Trump a huge win before it even hears his case

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