Justice Amy Coney Barrett said Tuesday that the Supreme Court’s current load of hot-button cases reflects Americans’ difficulties finding compromise.

Barrett addressed students at George Washington University, where she and Justice Sonia Sotomayor were interviewedduring the Civic Learning Week National Forum. Without specifically naming any of the contentious cases facing the Supreme Court, which range from questions about censorship and to the prosecution of former President Doanld Trump, Barrett acknowledged that the issues on the docket stem from broader cultural problems in America’s “era of polarization.”

“I feel like, maybe in this era of polarization — of some would say bitter polarization — that that ability to compromise is being lost,” she said in response to a question about declining trust in institutions. “But institutions, I think, reflect back some things that are present in the citizenry themselves. I think that’s true of our docket.”

“Justice O’Connor used to say, if you want to know what’s going on in America, then you can look at our docket, and you can see some of the battles that are being waged through litigation are often reflective of the battles that are being waged in society at large,” she continued.

Sotomayor, responding to the same question about declining faith in American institutions, noted how different branches of government may be tempted to step in when one is not functioning, such as the executive stepping in to fill the role of the legislature, or vice versa.

“Similarly, you challenge a court, because if the other two branches are overstepping, or not stepping up to their obligations, the citizenry is going to look to the courts to solve problems that it really shouldn’t,” she said. “All of these present dangers to the society.”

The Supreme Court unanimously ruled earlier this month that states cannot remove Trump from the ballot under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment. It also agreed in February to take up Trump’s bid to dismiss his election interference case based on presidential immunity.

In her concurring opinion on the Trump ballot case, Barrett appealed to Americans to focus on the court’s unanimity, even as the three liberal justices called out the majority in their own concurrence for deciding more than was required.

The court is set to hear Monday a case considering the Biden administration’s coordination with social media companies to censor speech online, as well as the National Rifle and Pistol Assocaition’s lawsuit against the former superintendent of the New York Department of Financial Services (DFS) for pressuring banks and insurers not to do business with them.

Barrett advised young people Tuesday not to lose their “sense of place” through online interactions, noting “place and people are critical to building a civil society.”

“In an increasingly online world, where people are living on social media or living in their bedrooms on their devices or computers, we’re maybe losing a sense of place,” she said. “And I think, of course, Covid didn’t help this, that we’re losing a sense of interpersonal, face-to-face interactions.”

“Now, I sound like an old person, but sitting in a restaurant and watching two young people not talking and on their tablets or phones instead of communicating — that’s distressing to me,” Sotomayor added.

Katelynn Richardson on March 12, 2024

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