Sotomayor renews calls for diversity in top court, says it influences approach to issues

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U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor on Monday renewed her hope for the court to become more diverse in professional and life experience.

Sotomayor, who earned her undergraduate degree at nearby Princeton University, spoke at New Jersey's Rutgers University, an event enlivened by her stroll up the steps and through the crowd at the school's basketball arena.

She echoed remarks she made last week in New York, when she said the court is "five Catholics, three Jews, everyone from an Ivy League school."

She cited an Arizona case, argued before she joined the court, in which a 13-year-old girl was strip-searched by middle school officials who suspected she had brought a prescription pain reliever to school. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg later remarked that her male colleagues may not have appreciated the girl's plight.

While having more diversity on the court wouldn't necessarily change outcomes, Sotomayor said, "it will influence the manner in which we approach an issue."

"Diversity of professional background, how people have grown up, what they've done with their lives" is important, she said.

Sotomayor didn't address the vacancy on the court created by Justice Antonin Scalia's death in February. President Barack Obama has nominated Judge Merrick Garland, but Republican leaders have said they will not vote on a nominee until the next president takes office.

Garland, 63, is white and Jewish and has an Ivy League background. His nomination disappointed some liberal groups who had hoped Obama would name a woman or minority.

University officials said they originally scheduled Sotomayor's talk for a room that held 700 people, but decided to hold it in the basketball arena. It was a wise move, as a long line of people stretched out from the building an hour before the event.

Sotomayor delighted the crowd of more than 3,000 when she climbed down from the podium and walked across the basketball court and began climbing the bleachers, shaking hands with as many people as she could while she answered questions from students at a microphone at court level.

She was trailed by two security officers and joked that she was breaking protocol.

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