Sotomayor chats with teen star of 'What the Constitution Means to Me'
© Yassine El Mansouri for the Kennedy Center

Rosdely Ciprian, the teen star of “What the Constitution Means to Me,” had a question for Supreme Court Justice Sonia SotomayorSonia SotomayorSotomayor breaks new two-minute rule as Supreme Court hears immigration case Sotomayor throws first pitch at Nationals' Hispanic Heritage Day Sotomayor chats with teen star of 'What the Constitution Means to Me' MORE: "What does the Constitution mean to you?”

The 15-year-old breakout star of Heidi Schreck’s Broadway hit had the opportunity to put that question to Sotomayor on Wednesday during a one-on-one conversation with the Supreme Court justice on stage at the Kennedy Center for its Justice Forum.

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Sotomayor said the Constitution has a different meaning for her as a justice because it established a government structure by creating branches for checks and balances.

“But fundamentally, it creates the structure under which we as Americans live with each other, because that’s what laws mean. That’s what laws mean to me,” Sotomayor said.

“As a citizen, [the Constitution] protects my rights against government intrusion,” Sotomayor responded before laying out the differences between what she called a “negative” constitution, which essentially forbids government intrusion under the outlined laws, and “positive” constitutions, like the one in South Africa that guarantees certain rights.

“Everyone in South Africa is entitled to an education,” Sotomayor said. “It doesn’t have that in our Constitution. You’re entitled to basic health care. We don’t have that.”

Most of the rights to which Americans are entitled, like representation at a criminal trial, stem from court decisions rather than constitutional enumeration, Sotomayor said.

“Many of the things that we take for granted as constitutional rights have come from decisions of the Court interpreting the Bill of Rights,” she said.

Sotomayor picked Ciprian, a high school debater, for Wednesday night's conversation, which was part of the Kennedy Center's celebration for its first expansion since opening in 1971.

Sotomayor focused most of the attention during the discussion on Ciprian’s life, interests and experience taking her debate skills to the stage. The Supreme Court justice also commended Ciprian’s desire to use her platform for activism.

“I speak only through opinions, I can’t speak on issues publicly like you can,” Sotomayor said. “I can only do it in decisions and hope that I inspire people to work on changes that the community needs."

"And just make sure you get your mother to vote every November,” she added.