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Sonia Sotomayor boldly defends Clarence Thomas before audience of progressive lawyers: 'That’s why I can be friends with him'

Erin Schaff-Pool/Getty Images

Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor defended fellow Justice Clarence Thomas on Thursday, praising the elder jurist for his personal and professional character.

What did Sotomayor say?

Speaking to progressive lawyers at the annual meeting of the American Constitution Society, Sotomayor admitted she disagrees with Thomas "more than with any other justice."

But that is where any notion of negativity ended.

In contrast with Thomas' critics, Sotomayor described Thomas as "a man who cares deeply about the court as an institution" and "about the people who work there."

In fact, Sotomayor explained that Thomas goes to great lengths to care for Supreme Court employees.

"Justice Thomas is the one justice in the building that literally knows every employee’s name, every one of them. And not only does he know their names, he remembers their families’ names and histories," she said.

"He’s the first one who will go up to someone when you’re walking with him and say, ‘Is your son OK? How’s your daughter doing in college?'" she added. "He’s the first one that, when my stepfather died, sent me flowers in Florida."

Regarding their differences in judicial philosophy, Sotomayor explained that she and Thomas understand their differences — but that doesn't usurp their collegiality.

"He has a different vision than I do about how to help people and about their responsibilities to help themselves," Sotomayor said. "Justice Thomas believes that every person can pull themselves up by their bootstraps. I believe that some people can’t get to their bootstraps without help. They need someone to help them lift their foot up so they can reach those bootstraps.

"That’s a very different philosophy of life, but I think we share a common understanding about people and kindness toward them," she continued. "That’s why I can be friends with him and still continue our daily battle over our difference of opinions in cases."

Anything else?

During her remarks, Sotomayor encouraged the audience of lawyers to maintain their trust in the Supreme Court.

"We have to have continuing faith in the court system and our system of government," she said, adding that the high court has "not lost [its] way."

Sotomayor, however, did not address the recent leak of an opinion draft that indicated the court had voted to overturn abortion precedents, according to the New York Times.

The decision in that case is expected before the court breaks for its summer recess.

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