Sonia Sotomayor on public trust in Supreme Court: 'All of us worry about that'

Justice Sotomayor on public outrage over SCOTUS decisions: ‘No easy answers’

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor discusses the public perception of court rulings with Savannah Guthrie on ‘The Today Show.’

NBC News host Savannah Guthrie didn’t ask Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor on Tuesday about the NPR masking story she publicly refuted last week, but Guthrie did get her to comment on what she claimed was the court’s “falling” credibility.

Appearing on “Today” to promote her new children’s book, Sotomayor was largely asked about the new work that was inspired by her late mother and her family’s desire to help others. But Guthrie did ask Sotomayor, who made headlines when she worried about a “stench” of politicization around the Supreme Court last month, about the court’s institutional reputation. Liberals have also fumed about former President Trump appointing three justices in four years, creating a 6-3 conservative majority.

“I know that you are not permitted to discuss any case or controversy before the Supreme Court in this interview, and I’m not even going to try it,” Guthrie said. “But let me ask you this. Just generally, there is concern that the court as an institution, its credibility has been falling. A recent Gallup poll, just 54% of Americans have a great deal or fair amount of trust in the court. How much do you worry about that, the court as an institution and how the public sees it?”

“I think all of us worry about that,” Sotomayor said. “We think about ways which we can comport ourselves, among ourselves to ensure that the public has confidence in what we’re doing. I do need to discuss this a little bit with the public to assure them that one of the hardest things about our work is that there are no easy answers. Reasonable people can disagree. In fact, we only take cases when there are circuit splits – I shouldn’t say only. But largely, most of our case docket is when the courts below have disagreed. And because of that, obviously, just as the larger society disagrees about the answers to some of our problems, so does the court. And if you bear that in mind, perhaps the public can be more accepting of the kind of work we do.” 

The liberal judge, who was appointed by President Obama in 2009, has been all over the news in recent weeks, from her false comments about the number of COVID hospitalizations among children to her widely reported remarks fretting over the possible overturning of Roe v. Wade.

“Will this institution survive the stench that this creates in the public perception that the constitution and its reading are just political acts?” she said last month. “I don’t see how it is possible.”

A divided Supreme Court is allowing the Trump administration to put in place a policy connecting the use of public benefits with whether immigrants could become permanent residents. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Then, she and fellow Justice Neil Gorsuch released a rare joint statement last week after an NPR report claimed Gorsuch had forced Sotomayor, who is diabetic, to telework because he refused requests by Chief Justice John Roberts to wear a mask.

“Reporting that Justice Sotomayor asked Justice Gorsuch to wear a mask surprised us. It is false. While we may sometimes disagree about the law, we are warm colleagues and friends,” Gorsuch and Sotomayor said in a joint statement to the media.

Supreme Court justices Neil Gorsuch and Sonia Sotomayor issued a joint statement calling an NPR report "false." 

Shortly afterward, when some NPR defenders protested that the NPR story said Roberts – not Sotomayor – had asked Gorsuch to do so, Roberts himself also released a statement refuting the story. 

“I did not request Justice Gorsuch or any other Justice to wear a mask on the bench,” he said.

NPR has stood by the story, although its public editor said reporter Nina Totenberg’s piece “merits a clarification, but not a correction.”

“After talking to Totenberg and reading all justices’ statements, I believe her reporting was solid, but her word choice was misleading,” Kelly McBride wrote, adding Totenberg should have said Roberts “suggested” justices wear a mask.

Fox News’ Joseph A. Wulfsohn contributed to this report.

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