DENVER — Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor predicted Thursday that the nation's high court will be asked again to weigh issues of national security versus free speech because of the recently leaked classified war documents posted on the WikiLeaks website.
Sotomayor told high school and college students at the University of Denver that she couldn't answer a student question about the security questions and free speech because "that question is very likely to come before me."
The release of the WikiLeaks documents, which included names of Afghans working with American forces, has been blasted by the Pentagon. It said the publication of those documents put lives at risk, while WikiLeaks employees insisted the website provides a public service for whistleblowers.
Sotomayor said Thursday that the "incident, and others, are going to provoke legislation that's already being discussed in Congress, and so some of it is going to come up before (the Supreme Court)."
She added that the balance between national security and free speech is "a constant struggle in this society, between our security needs and our First Amendment rights, and one that has existed throughout our history."
Sotomayor compared the current question to the debate over allowing publication of the Pentagon Papers, a secret Pentagon study about the Vietnam War. The New York Times published those in 1971 after the Supreme Court declined to block their publication over the objections of the Pentagon.
"That was not beginning of that question, but an issue that keeps arising from generation to generation, of how far we will permit government restriction on freedom of speech in favor of protection of the country," Sotomayor said. "There's no black-and-white line."
Sotomayor also declined to take a position on Arizona's illegal immigration law, but said the question of illegal immigration will be decided by legislation, not the courts.
"I haven't really examined the Arizona law in detail ... so I haven't formed an opinion yet, and I wouldn't until I heard the case," Sotomayor told a Latino boy who asked the question.
Sotomayor didn't predict whether it would end up before the U.S. Supreme Court. Parts of Arizona's law are pending in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco after the Department of Justice sued.
Sotomayor told students that if they were interested in changing society, they need to look to the legislative branch, not the courts.
"Waiting for the courts to resolve these issues is not what all of you should be doing," Sotomayor said, adding that they have to "work hard at either passing laws that you think do the right thing, or changing those laws which you think do the wrong thing."
Sotomayor discussed her personal experiences as a top arbiter of the law, saying she has been "living a fantasy" since being appointed to the court last year but that the job requires sacrifice.
She said her greatest sacrifice was "taking this job when I know I'm on the tail end of my mother's life." She said her mother was hospitalized two days ago in Florida, "and I'm not there."
Sotomayor spoke to the students before her appearance at a judicial conference in Colorado Springs this weekend. Some 800 judges are expected at the 10th U.S. Circuit Court conference; Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg planned to speak there.
A student asked about Sotomayor's experience living in her hometown, the Bronx borough of New York City, then attending Princeton University in New Jersey. The justice joked that students at the Ivy League school had read books she'd never even heard of and took a swipe at "Ulysses" by James Joyce.
"I started to read it, and I almost fell asleep," Sotomayor said.