Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor Speaks at Law Center

March 13, 2012 — “The law is service to people … if you view your role in that way, you can do anything,” said Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor on March 13, her first speaking engagement at the Law Center since she joined the High Court.

“The law is service to people … if you view your role in that way, you can do anything,” said Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor on March 13, her first speaking engagement at the Law Center since she joined the High Court. Sotomayor urged the first-year law students gathered in Hart Auditorium to have a broad vision about how they can serve as advocate, judge — or in whatever career they choose.

Dean William M. Treanor, who accompanied Sotomayor onstage along with Professor Emma Coleman Jordan, described the justice as “knowledgeable not just about the law but about people.”

When Sotomayor was a young child with juvenile diabetes and a penchant for Nancy Drew mysteries she was told there were some careers that she would not be able to pursue. Though lawyer was on the “approved” list, detective was not. Fortunately, Sotomayor discovered TV lawyer Perry Mason, who made witnesses confess that they, and not the defendant, had committed a particular crime.

“Having a witness break down at trial is an unlikely event, but I didn’t know it then,” she said. “I decided [that being a lawyer] is what I should do.”

By law school, Sotomayor had discovered that lawyers help people outside of the courtroom, too — and she carried that knowledge to varied roles in the Manhattan District Attorney’s office; to Ferrari, Fendi and other corporations she represented as a private attorney; and to the bench. She made it a priority to love her job, whether it was facing the “organized chaos” of the U.S. District Court, bringing new perspectives to a problem on the 2nd Circuit or collaborating with eight other legal minds on the Supreme Court, as she does now.

Five 1L students, including Dan Ashby (L’14) and Edward Williams (L’14), got to quiz the justice on such topics as judicial selection and technology in the courtroom. Sotomayor declined to say whether judicial elections are better or worse than judicial appointments, though she noted that some systems may discourage diversity in different localities. “It really depends on the good will of the people doing the process,” she said.

-- Ann W. Parks

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