Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor dedicates new courthouse, meets students in Colorado

DENVER - U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor said "justice has to be earned" each day during the dedication of the new new state courts building in Denver on Thursday.

"Justice has to be earned. We have to work at it every day," Sotomayor told the gathering at the Ralph Carr Colorado Judicial Center that included Gov. John Hickenlooper and other dignitaries.

"We exist to serve each other, and most of all, to serve the people," she said, adding that "our buildings (supreme courts) physically demand respect."

The 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. The complex cost $258 million.

Sotomayor spent part of the morning Thursday answering questions from eighth-, ninth- and 10th-graders in Denver. Thursday evening, she'll speak to students and faculty at Metropolitan State University of Denver, where she's expected to discuss her recently published memoir.

Wednesday, Sotomayor attended a private reception and ate at Benny's Restaurant and Tequila Bar where she took pictures with the staff.

Sotomayor became a Supreme Court justice in 2009.

-- Numerous dignitaries in attendance for ceremony --

Colorado State Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael L. Bender began the ceremony by pointing out that there were numerous representatives of all three branches of government in attendance.

Bender described the morning's activities that had Sotomayor speaking to and with 100 local students.

"It was a sight to behold," he said.

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper was the next speaker and made mention of the five previous state governors in attendance. He added that the dedication was the most-sought after ticket the past few months after Sotomayor confirmed her appearance.

The building is named for former Colorado governor Ralph L. Carr, who took a stand against World War II era Japanese-American internment camps, particularly the Amache camp in Colorado's eastern plains.

Carr's stance was an unpopular one at the time and Bender pointed out, being an outspoken opponent against internment was political suicide.

-- Sotomayor highlights similarities between supreme courts --

The Supreme Court Justice spent much of her dedication speech highlighting the similarities between the state's Supreme Court and the hallowed halls of the U.S. Supreme Court.

"I think of buildings as having souls," Sotomayor said. "Courthouses should convey the seriousness of the court's work as well as the endurance of the laws and institution. While at the same time assuring the public that the legal process is transparent and the courts are open to all."

Rob McCallum, spokesman for the state court department, said Sotomayor's visit is the first by a sitting Supreme Court Justice in nearly a decade. Retired justice Sandra Day O'Connor was the last justice to visit Colorado.