Justices Barrett and Sotomayor claim Supreme Court is amiable behind closed doors

 February 26, 2024

Supreme Court Justices Amy Coney Barrett and Sonia Sotomayor said during the National Governors Association conference in Washington that the justices get along behind closed doors and that any arguments between them are philosophical in nature. 

Sotomayor started the conversation, saying that justices are not beholden to any president since they are temporary.

“Not just beholden to a president, but not to a political party, either,” Barrett interjected. “Life tenure does insulate us from politics. And, so, it’s not just that we’re not Obama judges and Trump judges, but we’re also not Democratic judges or Republican judges. We don’t sit on opposite sides of an aisle. We all wear the same color black robe. We don’t have red robes and blue robes.”

One-third of the court's current nine justices were nominated by one president, Donald Trump, but that does not guarantee any particular decisions will be made or that the court will necessarily agree with conservatives about everything.

Collegial relationships

“When we disagree, our pens are sharp, but on a personal level, we never translate that into our relationship with one another,” Sotomayor declared.

Barrett shared an example of the collegial way in which she was treated by Sotomayor when she first joined the court.

“Justice Sotomayor showed up in my office with Halloween candy for my kids because it was right around Halloween time for my husband to take back to Indiana with him on that weekend,” Barrett said. “Collegiality isn’t going to make you change your principles … but there’s a way to have disagreement and to meet each other where it is possible to meet.”

Their comments do contrast with some made by other members of the court, however.

Justice Thomas dissents

After the decision to overturn Roe V. Wade threw the country into an uproar, Justice Clarence Thomas said, “This is not the court of that era,” referring to the 1990s when he was confirmed. “I sat with Ruth Ginsburg for almost 30 years, and she was actually an easy colleague to deal with. ... We may have been a dysfunctional family, but we were a family."

Thomas's friendship with Ginsburg is well-known, so maybe he just misses the late justice and their relationship.

It is obvious that the court would change over a period of years, but it also makes sense that the justices would make an effort to keep things civil.

Elena Kagan seems to agree with Thomas, at least about the relationships between justices.

“I don’t see why anybody should care that I can talk to some of my colleagues about baseball, unless that becomes a way for a better, more collaborative relationship about our cases and work,” Kagan told an audience at the University of Pennsylvania at the time.

“That is a work in progress. I mean, some years are better than other years,” Kagan added. “Time will tell whether this is a court that can get back … to finding common ground.”

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