Sotomayor spoke at the Democracy at a Crossroads National Summit, held at the Newseum on Thursday
Hurricane Maria has restrengthened to a Category 3 storm
US Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor on Thursday said she has not heard from “half her family” in Puerto Rico, where Hurricane Maria has knocked out power after striking the island territory.
The justice said she and her family “are exceedingly concerned,” while speaking with CNN’s Nia-Malika Henderson on a panel at the Democracy at a Crossroads National Summit held at the Newseum.
“The island is suffering a great tragedy right now,” Sotomayor said. “Myself personally and the rest of my family, we are exceedingly concerned. We ask for your prayers.”
Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló told CNN on Wednesday night that at least one person died in the storm, and no one on the island has power from utilities.
Sotomayor has been able to connect with family living in the area of San Juan following the hurricane, but her family has not been able to contact – and has not heard from – relatives living in the area of Mayaguez on the west coast of Puerto Rico, a Supreme Court spokeswoman said.
Sotomayor, the first Hispanic person on the Supreme Court, was the keynote speaker for the summit, which focuses on the need for better civic education in the US.
The summit is co-hosted by iCivics, which was founded by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in 2009. iCivics “exists to engage students in meaningful civic learning,” according to its website. It provides civics teachers with free resources, including online games, to help students be more engaged.
Sotomayor said O’Connor introduced her to the organization. She now spends a lot of time touring schools and talking to students. After Henderson asked a few questions, Sotomayor walked around the room answering questions from attendees, including students.
The first question came from a high school senior, who asked what the country could do to make government more representative of people of different backgrounds.
Without getting too political – because as Sotomayor told attendees “the judge’s rules say I can’t” – the justice said the responsibility lies with people.
“Government doesn’t do, people do,” she said. “It’s people who make laws, it’s people who change laws. It’s people who make things happen. So my question is, what are you going to do to make the government more representative? It won’t change unless we change it.”
However, she said the government could do a better job helping people of all socioeconomic classes receive higher education.
“Obviously the more economically challenged you are, the harder it is to go on to higher education and make something of yourself,” she said. “We need to work on that issue as a country. if we fall behind in our academic strength we’re going to fall behind in our world strength.”
She also touched on immigration in the US.
“It’s a real issue,” she said. “Why? Because some people feel at risk. If that is what is motivating them, whatever answer we find as a nation is going to have to deal with that. It’s going to have to address it in some meaningful way that will give people some sense of greater security than what they’re feeling.”
Sotomayor stressed the importance of listening to others, even when divided on political views.
“I’m often asked how on the Supreme Court we manage to maintain civility despite the fact that we are very different – at moments – in our rulings,” she said. “And my answer always is because we start from the premise that we are people of good faith.”
Her advice? “Look at another person and understand no matter how much you disagree with them … if you look, you will find good in them.”
Additional speakers at the summit included former Secretary of Education John King, former Florida Democratic Sen. Bob Graham and former NBA player Shane Battier.
CNN’s Ariane De Vogue contributed to this report