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Supreme Court justice calls for more diversity at UM

Jan 30, 2017

United States Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor called for greater diversity on college campuses while speaking at the University of Michigan Monday.

“We are making improvements toward that kind of equality,” said Sotomayor. “But we are still far from it. When you look at the number of African Americans at the University of Michigan, there’s a real problem there.”

Justice Susanne Baer of the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany joined Sotomayor in the forum moderated by NPR’s Michelle Norris.

Baer is a 1993 graduate of the University of Michigan Law School. Both jurists are minorities on their respective benches. Sotomayor is the first Latina justice to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. Baer is the first openly gay woman to preside in Germany’s highest court.

Norris, the moderator, had asked Sotomayor to describe her notions of what a great university should look like in the future.

“(Diversity is important) because until we reach that equality in education, we can’t reach equality in larger society,” said Sotomayor.

Baer echoed that “access points” to institutions like education are “still depressingly shaped by class.”

Neither justice nor Norris made any mention of President Trump’s recent travel ban or the open seat on the Supreme Court.

Sotomayor also called on the students in attendance to be better-informed citizens, at one point asking people in the audience to raise their hand if they have ever read the U.S. Constitution. Using the analogy of a stoplight, she summarized her view of the role of laws in society.

“We all give up a little bit of our time each day, arriving where we’re going more slowly, so that the society as a whole benefits from getting to where they’re going safely,” Sotomayor said. “That’s what laws do.

"Laws regulate your very existence, and virtually every relationship you have,” Sotomayor continued. "And if something's that important, you should at least understand its basic operation in the community you live in."

Sotomayor urged students to read the constitution, and make a decision about how to participate in democracy.

The forum at the Hill Auditorium is part of a series of events in celebration of the University of Michigan’s bicentennial.