Justice Sotomayor on “Life in the Law”

April 4, 2014 —

Just weeks after Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan sat down with Dean William M. Treanor at Georgetown Law for the inaugural Dean’s Lecture to the Graduating Class, her colleague on the Court, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, chatted with Professor Eloise Pasachoff at Georgetown University's annual Bernstein Symposium on “Life in the Law.”

Pasachoff, an education law expert and former Sotomayor law clerk from 2009 to 2010 — Sotomayor’s first term on the Court — led the justice in a conversation April 2 regarding her first day on the job, the importance of public service, her life as a trial and appellate judge and how human relationships matter. 

Sotomayor recalled how she was met personally on her first day by Justice John Paul Stevens, with whom she would spend one year on the Court. “So we are talking, and in walks Sandra Day O’Connor,” Sotomayor says of the first woman justice, who had already retired from the Court at that point. “You have to understand, from the moment I had been nominated by the president … it seemed to me as if I was watching myself go through these incredible things that were happening to me. … This was yet again one of those continuing moments, where two icons of mine in the law walked in to say hello to me. That was the start of my morning.” 

Sotomayor’s own personal touches were apparent at the 90-minute event, where she not only took the time to answer student questions but provided each of the thousand guests in Gaston Hall with an autographed copy of her 2013 biography, My Beloved World. The first Latina and the third woman to serve on the Court, Sotomayor also visited the Law Center in March 2012, addressing first-year students on careers, values and the law. 

The greatest obstacle to success? Not reaching out to others. “It’s the fear of being embarrassed, of not asking for help when you don’t know something,” said Sotomayor. “Asking for help is the most important thing you can do.”

Sotomayor was introduced by Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia as well as her former colleague and friend Judge Robert A. Katzmann, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit and a member of Georgetown Law’s Board of Visitors. (Pasachoff, by the way, also clerked for Katzmann.) When asked about Sotomayor, Katzmann noted, he always says the same thing: “She’s brilliant, principled, hardworking, determined, caring about others, generous and full of life. … She is a judge’s judge, a lawyer’s lawyer.”   

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