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September 18, 2014

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Sotomayor cites Boston on perils of profiling

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AP Photo/New York Law Journal, Rick Kopstein

Supreme Court Justice designate Sonia Sotomayor smiles during a celebration at the federal courthouse in New York after being confirmed by the Senate as the nation’s first Hispanic Supreme Court justice on Thursday.

DENVER — Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor said Thursday the investigation into the Boston Marathon bombings shows how difficult and sensitive the issue of racial profiling can be.

Speaking with young students in Denver, Sotomayor noted that some people asked whether authorities had done enough to track the two suspects, both ethnic Chechens.

"Is that profiling? Could be," she said. "Is it something you just can't ignore? Maybe sometimes not."

Sotomayor, who was in Denver for the dedication of a new state courts building, said police who rely only on racial profiling to decide if someone committed a crime are usually wrong. But she said investigators need to pay attention to some "indicators" about suspects, without saying what they might be.

"It's a fine line society walks in trying to be fair," she said.

Sotomayor, who became the first Hispanic on the Supreme Court when she took office in 2009, said she was the subject of racial stereotyping after her appointment, and it was hurtful.

Her biggest challenge was dealing with other people's low expectations, she said, "and having fun proving them wrong."

Sotomayor took questions from about 100 eighth-, ninth- and 10th-graders before ceremonies to open the Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center.

Shortly after Michael Bender, chief justice of the state Supreme Court, introduced her, Sotomayor stepped off the speaker's platform and roamed the aisles around the students, answering questions eye-to-eye and engaging them in banter.

She frequently referred to her new memoir, "My Beloved World," and urged the children to dream big and explore career possibilities, even if they seem intimidating.

"When I was your age, I didn't know there was a Supreme Court," she said. She said she learned about the legal system by watching "Perry Mason" television dramas.

She promised her young audience that if any of them became a justice, "I'll come and swear you in."

The new building was named for Ralph Carr, Colorado's governor from 1939 to 1943, who spoke out for the constitutional rights of Japanese-Americans who were confined to internment camps during World War II.

The $258 million building houses courtrooms for the state Supreme Court and state Court of Appeals as well as offices of the attorney general, the state public defender and court administrators.

While praising the center, Sotomayor looked up from her notes and said with a smile, "The kids in this audience today won't remember a time in their lives when this building didn't exist."

On Thursday night, after speaking at a Metropolitan State University of Denver gymnasium about her struggles and achievements, Sotomayor roamed the aisles flanked by her security detail, shaking hands, posing for photos with children and repeatedly saying: "Thank you. Thank you very much. You're being so nice."