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SUPREME COURT NOTEBOOK: Few top GOP officials are backing same-sex marriage nationwide

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WASHINGTON — The partisan divide over same-sex marriage among top elected officials remains stark, with Democrats overwhelmingly on record in favor and Republicans mostly silent so far.

The list of Republicans who are supporting same-sex marriage, in a case set for arguments April 28 at the Supreme Court, is much longer than it was two years ago, but it remains conspicuously short of sitting members of Congress and governors.

President Barack Obama is the top Democrat calling on the Supreme Court to extend same-sex marriage nationwide. He is joined by 211 Democrats and independents in Congress and 19 Democratic state attorneys general.

On the Republican side are just seven sitting members of Congress and one governor, Charlie Baker of Massachusetts.

Massachusetts was the first state in which same-sex couples could marry, starting in 2004, as a result of a state Supreme Court ruling.

Baker put his support in personal terms. "My view on this is pretty simple. I have a brother who's gay. He lives in Massachusetts. He's married," Baker said when the Republicans' brief was filed in early March. "There simply wasn't a moral justification" for denying same-sex couples the right to marry, Baker said.

Senators who signed the brief are Susan Collins of Maine and Mark Kirk of Illinois. The House members are Reps. Carlos Curbelo of Florida, Bob Dold of Illinois, Chris Gibson of New York, Richard Hanna of New York and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida.

Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, who announced his support for same-sex marriage in 2013 after Portman's son told him he is gay, is not among the signers. The Supreme Court is considering state marriage bans from Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.

Other prominent Republicans who joined the brief are: billionaire political donor David Koch; former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani; Mary Cheney, daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney; former Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman; six former governors; and 16 former members of Congress.

PHOTO: FILE - In this Oct. 3, 2014 file photo, the Supreme Court is seen in Washington. The partisan divide over same-sex marriage among top elected officials remains stark, with Democrats overwhelmingly on record in favor and Republicans mostly silent so far.  (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)
FILE - In this Oct. 3, 2014 file photo, the Supreme Court is seen in Washington. The partisan divide over same-sex marriage among top elected officials remains stark, with Democrats overwhelmingly on record in favor and Republicans mostly silent so far. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)


Justice Sonia Sotomayor says the Supreme Court has too many law professors, too many Ivy Leaguers, too many East Coasters and a lack of diverse life experience.

"It's a real problem," Sotomayor said last week at North Carolina's Davidson College.

The outcome of cases might be no different if experiences on the court were more varied, yet diversity is very important, Sotomayor said during a 45-minute question-and-answer session marked by her signature stroll through the audience and picture-taking with the questioners.

"The breadth of experience ensures that in every single case, people are going to ignore an approach, an argument, a point of view simply because they don't understand it. It ensures that every argument is aired," Sotomayor said. Sotomayor is one of three women on the current court, as well as the first Latina justice.

The justices have sparse experience in civil rights, state law and smaller legal practices, Sotomayor said.

"My colleagues think it doesn't make a difference, but I think the absence of life experience generally on the court is a bad thing," she said. Also on her list: the lack of anything other than Catholics and Jews.

Sotomayor said that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is her only colleague with civil rights experience, while Anthony Kennedy is the only member of the court who was in a small, varied legal practice before becoming a judge. Sotomayor is the only justice with a state law background.

State criminal law cases are a big part of the Supreme Court's docket, and she said she is struck that her colleagues don't always know the difference between the federal and state systems.

"Sometimes they imagine differences and sometimes they don't appreciate the real ones," she said.

The college posted video of the event online.

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