Supreme Court justices, governors weigh how to ‘disagree better’ in a polarized U.S.

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justices Amy Coney Barrett, left, and Sonia Sotomayor, center, speak about the state of political discourse during a panel at the National Governors Association’s winter meeting in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 23, 2024. Thomas Griffith, lecturer on law at Harvard and retired D. C. Circuit Court judge, right, moderated the panel. (Photo by Jennifer Shutt/States Newsroom)

WASHINGTON — U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justices Amy Coney Barrett and Sonia Sotomayor spoke to the nation’s governors Friday about how they disagree on cases of major import without restoring to the rancor that often marks modern politics.

Their rare public remarks inside a Washington, D.C., hotel ballroom were part of the National Governors Association’s “Disagree Better” initiative, led by Utah’s Spencer Cox and Colorado’s Jared Polis, that aims to lower tensions between Republicans and Democrats as well as voters.

“For me, collegiality is at the center of our ability to work together and to work together in a way where when we disagree, our pens are sharp, but on a personal level, we never translate that into our relationships,” Sotomayor said.

The justices regularly meet for lunch and are all present in a room together when they review oral arguments to determine who will write the court’s majority and minority opinions.

Barrett said that the process, in which one justice writes the brief on behalf of the others on the same side of the case, offers chances to collaborate and compromise. Those drafts, she said, often included different configurations of judges and thinking.

“We can compromise on how we present things, how narrowly or broadly we write them, whether we’re willing to let certain arguments drop out,” Barrett said. “So that is a real place where we try very hard.”

Barrett noted the United States is a “pluralistic society” where people have the right to free speech.

“If we can’t survive by tolerating differences and learning to compromise and learning to allow one another to express other views, we’re going to sink,” Barrett said. “We won’t be able to get anything done as a country.”

Sotomayor said one of the problems she sees with the public exchanges on television is that “there’s too much vilifying of people as human beings and not enough acceptance that we are fundamentally good people.”

“You don’t get involved in public service, you don’t get involved in trying to help others unless you have some certain core values about love of family, love of friends, love of community,” Sotomayor said. “If you believe in them and you can accept that those who differ from you in their thinking have those values as well, it is much easier to disagree agreeably.”

Sotomayor said one of the attributes of the Supreme Court is that justices are “present” during the private meetings of all nine justices and listening to do their best to “get it right.”

“We’re listening to what each other is saying. We may disagree with it, but we are listening,” Sotomayor said. “I think what’s happening, regrettably, in too many legislative processes, is because there’s cameras in your chambers, many legislators and others are not sitting in the room anymore.”

The justices also spoke about some lighter-hearted moments on the court, including revealing that Sotomayor was the first justice to call Barrett the night she received Senate confirmation to congratulate her.

They did not take questions and avoided discussions of specific cases or decisions.

Cox, Polis try to curb polarization

Before the two Supreme Court justices spoke, the two leaders of the National Governors Association spoke about how they are trying to lower the tension within the country’s political discourse.

Cox, a Republican and chairman of the bipartisan National Governors Association, said the central point of disagreeing better is that “polarization is not just toxic for our souls, but it makes it really hard for those of us elected to solve problems and actually do our jobs.”

“Certainly, we’ve seen the dysfunction that has become the norm of Congress,” Cox said.

One of the preeminent threats, Cox said, is “the belief on both sides that the other side is trying to destroy our country.”

“It’s that mistaken belief, that perception gap that causes both sides to justify breaking norms and institutions, because they think the other side is going to do it if they don’t,” Cox said.

Polis, a Democrat and vice chairman of the NGA, said that “democracy depends on the success of people being able to disagree with one another passionately, emphatically, but being able to work together with mutual respect and dignity.”

The Disagree Better initiative, Polis said, “is an important reminder to all of our fellow Americans that there’s a healthier and more productive way to deal with conflicting opinions.”

The post Supreme Court justices, governors weigh how to ‘disagree better’ in a polarized U.S. appeared first on Daily Montanan.