NBC's Guthrie Frets Over Supreme Court Split: 'So-Called Liberals' vs 'Conservative Bloc'

Interviewing Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor about her new memoir on Monday's NBC Today, co-host Savannah Guthrie worried that political division was undermining the high court: "Do you think that it's bad for the credibility of the Court as an institution if people have the perception that it is splitting along partisan or ideological lines?"

Sotomayor countered: "Yes. If I believed that that was the reason for the split, which I don't. The fact that there's a circuit split makes it clear that there are different ways of looking at the situation and that the answer is not a slam dunk." In response, Guthrie argued that "so-called liberals" take one side of a case, while the "conservative ideological bloc" takes the other.

Sotomayor – a committed liberal, not a "so-called" one – replied: "It doesn't fracture along the ideological lines. It fractures possibly more often on your basic interpretive approach."

Guthrie then turned to the subject of Affirmative Action and questioned whether Sotomayor could be objective on the topic: "How can you judge a case about Affirmative Action impartially when you, yourself, have acknowledged really benefitting from some of those policies?" Sotomayor asserted: "The initial plans that I was a beneficiary of were very different....When I call myself an 'Affirmative Action baby,' I'm talking about the essence of what Affirmative Action was when it started."

Guthrie followed up by wondering: "Is there still a need for it today?" Sotomayor proclaimed: "There's still a need for people to be sensitive to the fact that they feel more comfortable with people who look like them. And that you have to be conscious about the way in which the structures you put into place will limit the opportunities for others."

Turning to the Court's role in deciding controversial issues, Guthrie voiced more concern: "Do you think it's good for the democratic process for the Court to be deciding these big social issues of the day?" Sotomayor declared: "The Court announces and the dialogue begins."

Wrapping up the exchange, Guthrie asked: "Do you look forward to those big consequential cases?" Sotomayor declared: "I don't think you can say anyone looks forward to controversy."

Guthrie teased part two of the interview to be aired on Tuesday's Today.


Here is a full transcript Guthrie's January 14 interview with Sotomayor:

7:16AM ET

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: A rare interview with Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. She made history, of course, in 2009, when she became the first Hispanic and third woman to join the high court. Well, now she's releasing her memoir entitled My Beloved World. As a sitting Supreme Court justice, there is, of course, very little she can say about the issues coming before the Court. But when we caught up with her, we tried. We did ask about some recent divisions in the Court over some of its toughest cases. Do you think that it's bad for the credibility of the Court as an institution if people have the perception that it is splitting along partisan or ideological lines?

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: "My Beloved World"; Savannah One-on-One With Justice Sotomayor]

SONIA SOTOMAYOR: Yes. If I believed that that was the reason for the split, which I don't. The fact that there's a circuit split makes it clear that there are different ways of looking at the situation and that the answer is not a slam dunk.

GUTHRIE: But it is true that often the so-called liberals on the Court side with one another and there's a conservative ideological bloc and the Court sometimes fractures down those lines.

SOTOMAYOR: It doesn't fracture along the ideological lines. It fractures possibly more often on your basic interpretive approach.

GUTHRIE: How can you judge a case about Affirmative Action impartially when you, yourself, have acknowledged really benefitting from some of those policies?

SOTOMAYOR: The initial plans that I was a beneficiary of were very different. They said to schools and to employers, "You can't limit your hiring from pools that are segregated." The plans that the courts were dealing with over time were plans that had fixed quotas, plans that specified that certain numbers of minorities had to be taken in to schools. When I call myself an "Affirmative Action baby," I'm talking about the essence of what Affirmative Action was when it started.

GUTHRIE: Is there still a need for it today?

SOTOMAYOR: There's still a need for people to be sensitive to the fact that they feel more comfortable with people who look like them. And that you have to be conscious about the way in which the structures you put into place will limit the opportunities for others.

GUTHRIE: Do you think it's good for the democratic process for the Court to be deciding these big social issues of the day?

SOTOMAYOR: I don't think of us, the democratic process, as being a static one where the Court announces and that ends the dialogue. The Court announces and the dialogue begins, and the approach, in some instances, has to be changed. But the society manages to do it.

GUTHRIE: Do you look forward to those big consequential cases?

SOTOMAYOR: Oh, my God. Look forward to them? I don't think you can say anyone looks forward to controversy. I think that the day a justice forgets that each decision comes at a cost to someone, then I think you start losing your humanity.

GUTHRIE: Well, Sotomayor's memoir is very personal, very candid. And we talked to her about her life, what she's learned over the years. And that's coming up tomorrow on Today.

MATT LAUER: That's going to be fascinating.

GUTHRIE: A good conversation.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC