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Key Excerpt: Cornyn and Sotomayor on 1996 Speech

Courtesy of CQ Transcriptions:

CORNYN: Let me ask about another speech you gave in 1996 that was published in the Suffolk University Law Review, where you wrote what appears to be an endorsement of the idea that judges should change the law. You wrote, quote, "Change, sometimes radical change, can and does occur in a legal system that serves a society whose social policy itself changes." You noted, with apparent approval, that, quote, "A given judge or judges may develop a novel approach to a specific set of facts or legal framework that pushes the law in a new direction," close quote.

Can you explain what you meant by those words?

SOTOMAYOR: The title of that speech was, "Returning Majesty To The Law." As I hope I communicated in my opening remarks, I'm passionate about the practice of law and judging, passionate in sense of respecting the rule of law so much. The speech was given in the context of talking to young lawyers and saying, "Don't participate in the cynicism that people express about our legal system."

CORNYN: What kind of ...

SOTOMAYOR: I ...

CORNYN: Excuse me. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to interrupt you.

SOTOMAYOR: And I was encouraging them not to fall into the trap of calling decisions that the public disagrees with, as they sometimes do, activism or using other labels, but to try to be more engaged in explaining the law and the process of law to the public. And in the context of the words that you quoted to me, I pointed out to them explicitly about evolving social changes, that what I was referring to is Congress is passing new laws all the time. And so whatever was viewed as settled law previously will often get changed because Congress has changed something.

I also spoke about the fact that society evolves in terms of technology and other developments, and so the law is being applied to a new set of facts. In terms of talking about different approaches in law, I was talking about the fact that there are some cases that are viewed as radical, and I think I mentioned just one case, Brown v. Board of Education, and explaining and encouraging to -- them to explain that process, too.

Read the entire exchange between Sen. Cornyn and Judge Sotomayor here.

By Washington Post editors  |  July 15, 2009; 10:15 AM ET
Categories:  Hearings , Supreme Court  
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