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Sotomayor visits Penn for law school dedication

By Kathy Matheson

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, April 5 2012 6:50 p.m. MDT

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor speaks during an event at the University of Pennsylvania Law School Thursday, April 5, 2012 in Philadelphia.

Alex Brandon, Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA — U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor gave no indication of the future of the landmark health care law on Thursday during an event at which she said judges cannot interact with the public in the same way politicians do.

Her comments at the University of Pennsylvania came in response to a question about whether the nine justices should do more to educate the public about the court, given popular direct communication tools such as Twitter and Facebook.

"We can't do that as judges," Sotomayor said. "We can't engage the public in a seminar about health law."

Sotomayor visited Penn a week after the Supreme Court heard three days of arguments on President Barack Obama's health care law. The justices are weighing the constitutionality of a requirement that virtually every American carry health insurance. A ruling is expected in June.

Penn President Amy Gutmann said while introducing Sotomayor at a convocation, "I'm proud that I resisted the temptation to ask our honored guest how that's going to come out. That doesn't take a lot of wisdom not to ask that."

Sotomayor, who became the 111th justice on the court when she was sworn in on Aug. 8, 2009, said judges can't debate and exchange ideas with the public in the same way politicians engage with their constituents. People would find it "very unsatisfying" to try to interact with justices on social media, she said.

However, Sotomayor noted that she and her Supreme Court colleagues can and do interact with the public in other ways — by teaching constitutional law, presiding over moot courts and giving public lectures.

"We're all participating publicly, just maybe not in the way the public would like us to," she said.

Sotomayor, who grew up in New York City, visited Philadelphia to help the Ivy League university open its new $34 million law school building. Before the ribbon-cutting at Golkin Hall, she discussed her legal background and doled out career advice.

Her one professional regret? Not clerking for a judge.

"You learn more in one year of clerking than you learn in eight years of practice," she told the Irvine Auditorium audience, which included hundreds of Penn law school students and alumni.

At the close of the event, law school Dean Michael Fitts announced the creation of a scholarship in Sotomayor's name for Penn students who aspire to the judiciary. Fitts and Sotomayor attended law school together at Yale University.

The justice expressed her gratitude, noting that she attended college and law school on scholarships because her family could not otherwise afford it.

"I'm so grateful to the school," she said, "for passing it forward to someone else."

Follow Kathy Matheson at www.twitter.com/kmatheson

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