United States

'How can a democracy function if we can't talk to one another?' U.S. justices ask

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Judge Neil Gorsuch speaks after his swearing as an associate justice of the Supreme Court in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, U.S., April 10, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo

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WASHINGTON, April 14 (Reuters) - Two U.S. Supreme Court justices from opposite ends of the ideological spectrum are calling on Americans to learn to talk civilly to each other or risk lasting damage to the nation's democratic system.

Speaking in a pre-recorded discussion released on Wednesday, liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor and conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch both bemoaned the current state of public discourse, which they said was abetted by the spread of disinformation on social media.

The United States in the past year has endured a contentious presidential campaign, former President Donald Trump's false claims of a stolen election, an attack on the U.S. Capitol by a pro-Trump mob and police incidents that triggered protests against racial injustice.

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"We have a ... very heated debate going on. And that's not necessarily a bad thing, but it can turn into an awful thing, into something that destroys the fabric of our community, if we don't learn to talk to each other," Sotomayor said.

The event - focusing on how a lack of civics education can harm national security - was co-hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank and the National Security Institute at George Mason University's law school.

Sotomayor, appointed by Democratic former President Barack Obama, said she was heartened by the high turnout in last year's election but lamented that "at the same time we see some of the cracks in our system."

Gorsuch, appointed by Trump, said people could learn from the court, where the justices tout their ability to remain cordial despite their differences.

"How can a democracy function if we can't talk to one another and if we can't disagree kindly, with respect for one another's differences and different points of view?" Gorsuch asked.

Gorsuch noted that some surveys have shown that only a third of Americans think living in a democracy is important.

"It's no surprise that a lot of the false information spread on social media is deliberately spread by our enemies to sow disagreement internally in the country," Gorsuch said. "If we allow them to destroy our sense of 'we the people' - our sense of community, our sense of our shared liberties that we love and treasure - that's hard to come back from."

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Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham

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