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On the Supreme Court, Disagreeing Without Being Disagreeable

U.S.On the Supreme Court, Disagreeing Without Being Disagreeable

A week after Justice Amy Coney Barrett chastised Justice Sonia Sotomayor for choosing “to amplify disagreement with stridency” in a Supreme Court decision on former President Donald J. Trump’s eligibility to hold office, the two women appeared together on Tuesday to discuss civics and civility.

They gave, for the most part, a familiar account of a collegial court whose members know how to disagree without being disagreeable.

“We don’t speak in a hot way at our conferences,” Justice Barrett said, referring to the private meetings at which the justices discuss cases. “We don’t raise our voices no matter how hot-button the case is.”

Justice Sotomayor, who usually gives a sunny description of relations between the justices, registered a partial dissent.

“Occasionally someone might come close to something that could be viewed as hurtful,” Justice Sotomayor said. When that happens, she said, a senior colleague will sometimes call the offending justice, suggesting an apology or other way of patching things up.

Similar interactions can happen if a draft opinion is too sharp, she said. “There is dialogue around that, an attempt to find a different expression,” she said.

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