Justice Sotomayor: Most People Steal From Their Employer

By CNSNews.com Staff | June 11, 2018 | 3:41 PM EDT

Justice Sonia Sotomayor (Screen Capture)

(CNSNews.com) - Justice Sonia Sotomayor made the observation that “most people” steal from their employer while giving a live on-stage interview at the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy’s national convention in Washington, D.C. on Friday.

Sotomayor used this example to explain why she used the term “undocumented immigrant”--as opposed to “illegal immigrant” or “illegal alien”--in an opinion she wrote nine years ago and why violating the immigration laws should not be deemed a significant crime.

The issue was brought up by Melissa Murray, who clerked for Sotomayor on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, who now teaches at the University of California at Berkeley law school and is faculty director of the school’s “Center for Reproductive Rights and Justice.” Murray was Sotomayor’s interviewer at the event.

“In one of your first opinions for the court in 2009, you made a very purposeful choice to use the term ‘undocumented immigrant’ as opposed to illegal immigrant or illegal alien,” said Murray. “And you spoke later and said that was a choice that you made because you wanted to disrupt the idea that being undocumented was an extreme form of criminality. And you wanted to sort of think about the range of criminality. People break laws all the time.”

Sotomayor responded:

“How many people take things from their office home, that they’re not necessarily—that they are giving to their kids, that they’re giving to their kids to paint with or do whatever they need for a school project. Most people do that, reflexively without thinking. You are stealing from your employer. Yet, we don’t think of it as culpable conduct—that should result, thankfully, in the death penalty, okay. Or even perhaps incarceration. And, so, there are varying degrees and varying difference for why people commit crimes.”

“That’s no less true for undocumented aliens,” Sotomayor continued. “Certainly, there’s a significant—not even a significant—there’s a number of people who have committed other criminal activities that are not related to their status. That’s a different undocumented alien than the undocumented alien who is here without valid papers but is still a contributing members of our society.”

Here is a transcript of the exchange between Murray and Justice Sotomayor:

Melissa Murray: "It’s not just the consequences of law but the consequences of language. In one of your first opinions for the court in 2009, you made a very purposeful choice to use the term ‘undocumented immigrant’ as opposed to illegal immigrant or illegal alien. And you spoke later and said that was a choice that you made because you wanted to disrupt the idea that being undocumented was an extreme form of criminality. And you wanted to sort of think about the range of criminality. People break laws all the time. And it’s not--"

Justice Sonia Sotomayor: "I give examples of that. How many people take things from their office home, that they’re not necessarily—that they are giving to their kids, that they’re giving to their kids to paint with or do whatever they need for a school project. Most people do that, reflexively without thinking. You are stealing from your employer. Yet, we don’t think of it as culpable conduct—that should result, thankfully, in the death penalty, okay. Or even perhaps incarceration. And, so, there are varying degrees and varying difference for why people commit crimes.

"That’s no less true for undocumented aliens. Certainly, there’s a significant—not even a significant—there’s a number of people who have committed other criminal activities that are not related to their status. That’s a different undocumented alien than the undocumented alien who is here without valid papers but is still a contributing members of our society.

"And responses have to be as nuanced as the punishment judges give. But so do people’s perceptions of those individuals. Many people think you have committed a crime, you somehow are a horrible, bad person. The reality is that good people do bad things. And, how many of you mothers in the room or fathers look at your kids when they say do you still love me and you say: I love you, I just don’t like what you did. That’s not a—that’s a perfect truth.

"And there may be moments you don’t like them. But, you know--

"But my point still remains that as a society, unless we as judges are careful about our use of words and not taking on words with this large emotional negative impact about others, then we won’t teach the greater society to be more nuanced in their reaction to very complex problems.

Murray: "That seems to be a problem now more than ever—this need for nuance and precision as opposed to sort of blunt language. I mean, do you think that that decision is more resonant today than it was in 2009?

Justice Sotomayor: "Well, given the nature of the conversation today, yes. And I think people are still having it and I am grateful for it. One of my colleagues wrote a decision a number of years after mine pointing out rightly that the statute that these people are charged with violating deems them illegal aliens. But I think that misses the point, which is the fact that others use a term doesn’t mean that the term has not been imbued with more meaning than what the statute gives it, or than what the dictionary might give it. That sensitivity has to be more broad than that."

 


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