Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor at Pomona College (Full Video)

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor at Pomona College (Full Video)

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– Good evening. (applause) Good evening. I’m David Oxtoby, president
of Pomona College. And it is my privilege and honor to welcome you to Bridges Auditorium for what promises to be
a remarkable evening. We are truly grateful to the Honorable Justice Sonia Sotomayor for visiting our community
and sharing her story with us. I want to extend a warm welcome to students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents, friends, and
Pomona College trustees who are gathered tonight
in Bridges Auditorium. And to those of you who are joining us through a special live stream. Now, let me introduce Gilda Ochoa, Pomona College professor of sociology in Chicano-Latino Studies. (applause) Gilda is a distinguished faculty member and an expert on education
inequalities in schools and community partnerships. Her book Academic Profiling:
Latinos, Asian Americans, and the Achievement
Gap has won awards from the Association for
Asian American Studies, the Society for the
Study of Social Problems, and the American Sociological Association. Gilda has written on education, Latino immigration policy, K-12 teachers, activism, critical pedagogy, and the factors influencing
race-ethnic relationships. Especially between Mexican
Americans and Mexican immigrants. Today, Professor Ochoa led
an exceptional master class with about 40 students
and Justice Sotomayor. Please join me in welcoming
Gilda Ochoa to the podium. (applause) – Hello. Good evening. It’s honor to be here
to introduce to you all Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. I just finished facilitating
a class with the justice and 40 Pomona College students. And the excitement in that classroom was just as palpable
as it is here tonight. We had a dynamic exchange. The justice expanded on her powerful memoir, My Beloved World. One of the many aspects that I most appreciated about
our dialogue and her book were her intimate stories that open up spaces of human
connection and deep reflection about what are oftentimes
considered family or personal struggles, but, in reality, are linked
to macrostructural dynamics. Living with a father who’s an alcoholic, having a parent who doesn’t
always display love explicitly, growing up with diabetes,
and struggling economically. And, in the midst of all this, she shows us how she engages in everyday forms of resistance
and collective action. Working for change in multiple arenas and with different groups. In college, while at Princeton, in law school, while at
Yale, and as a lawyer. Illustrating how distinct contexts require varied forms of resistance. One of my favorite parts of
her book, and it’s a quote, captures the urgency of change during our contemporary period. A period that I would say is marred by vast wealth inequality,
racist and sexist violence, anti-immigrant policies. She writes and I quote, “My childhood ambition to become a lawyer had nothing to do with middle class respectability and comfort. I understood the lawyer’s
job as being to help people. I understood the law as a force for good. Through the law, you could change the very structure of our society and the way that communities functioned. In this way, the law could help vast numbers of people all at once. With so much hardship and
suffering all around me, the need for change was glaring.” Unquote. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, 2013, page 255. As are her words, just as
important has been her work. Both her words and her work
are what are so inspiring. Born in the Bronx to parents
who are from Puerto Rico, Sonia Sotomayor attended
Princeton University where she was drawn to
sociology and psychology because of her interest in
individuals and in communities. She became a history major. She writes that studying
the history of Puerto Rico anchored her sense of self. Reaffirming for so many
of us the importance of Chicano-Latino Studies,
Asian American Studies, and Africano Studies within our schools. (applause) While a student at Princeton University, she worked with Accion Puertorriquena and the Third World Center to push for Latin American Studies and to push for the hiring of faculty administrators of color. While there, she
graduated summa cum laude. She received her JD from Yale, where she served as the editor
of the Yale Law Journal. And, after serving in
several crucial roles, including as assistant district attorney and as a judge on the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, she was nominated by
President Barack Obama as an associate justice
of the Supreme Court. She assumed that role in August 8, 2009. The first woman of
color, the first Latina, the first Nuyorican to serve on the court. (applause) Tonight, we’re fortunate to listen in on a dialogue between Justice Sotomayor and Professor Amanda Hollis-Brusky. (applause) Pomona College professor of politics and the author of Ideas with Consequences: The Federalist Society and the Conservative Counterrevolution. Please join me in giving them both a warm welcome and a round of applause as they enter the stage. (applause) – Well, good evening. Welcome, everyone. Justice Sotomayor, I know I speak for all 2,200 of my closest
friends here tonight. (laughter) For those watching in the
overflow at Seaver Theater, including my daughters… Hi, Annabelle and Eloise. For those livestreaming the event at home from every corner of the globe. And for everyone in the
Claremont Colleges community. When I say it is an honor to have you here on campus with us getting
to know our students. Who, as I’m sure you have gathered by now, are some of the best, the brightest, and the most inspiring
students on the planet. (applause) I know my audience. I wanna thank you for sharing… – [Sonia] It’s nice to be right. – It is. I wanna thank you for
sharing your story with us and for agreeing to be part of our story here at Pomona College. Before I get started I
wanna say just a few notes on the structure of the
conversation with the justice. For the first half of our program, I’ll be asking questions of
the justice up here on stage. Att the midpoint, the justice
will move off the stage and answer a handful of
pre-selected questions from students sitting here
at the front row of Bridges. At this time, I’d like to ask that you silence your cellphones. Put away those selfie sticks. Make sure your safety belt
is buckled and fastened low and tight across your lap. And please refrain from
moving about the cabin until the event has concluded. Now, without further
ado, Justice Sotomayor. (applause) At the beginning of the semester, I gave a talk to the
incoming class of 2019 on My Beloved World. In that talk, I argued that your book, despite the lovely title and the disarming smiling portrait of you on the front cover, is actually pretty radical. And I explained that it’s radical for a justice sitting on the Supreme Court of the United States, at the institution of government that is farthest removed from the people, that’s insulated from public opinion, an institution that the public knows virtually nothing about where the justices deliberate in secret inside of a giant marble temple, where the clerks take
a vow never to reveal what they have seen or heard
in the justices’ chambers. That it’s radical for a
justice of this institution to write so openly, so
candidly, and so personally about her life in the way
that you do in this memoir. Now, I’m not gonna ask you
if you think it’s radical, ’cause I don’t want my
authority undermined or my credibility. (laughter) So, I’m gonna ask you
this question instead. Did you take a risk in writing this book? And, if so, what has the response been? – A dramatic risk. I write in my preface that, any time you open yourself up, you run the risk of being vulnerable. Vulnerable to rejection. And most of us fear that on some level. But vulnerable in another way. Which is that people, A, will
assume they really know you, but, secondly, that
they will attempt to use what they know of you from that book against you in some way. And all of those things create a certain hesitation initially. But maybe I should give you
the backdrop of the book, okay? When I went to speak to my publisher, I asked them “What made
for a great memoir?” And my editor, the man who
ultimately became my editor, responded and said, “Authenticity. Be genuine in your book. Speak from the heart. The reading public will
be turned off immediately if they think you’re spinning a story.” And, as you’ll learn from my book, I try to learn from other peoples’ advice. And, as I started to think about what could my book add to the
body of knowledge about me… Everybody knows the basic facts. You can look at my resume and know the steps I’ve taken in my life. So, what would be valuable? And I realized that
what would be valuable, to some people, might be the
lessons I’ve drawn from living. And sharing with others
some of my frailties, some of my strengths. But to look at it as an opportunity to let people see that, despite
many challenges in life, there’s hope. There’s the possibility of
not living in unhappiness. But of taking a path
that can lead you to feel not vulnerable, but happy about your life. And that’s why the title seems so perfect. It is my beloved world. Despite all the warts, there probably isn’t anything
that I would actually change. I’ve said to people
perhaps the only thing is being able to have convinced
my father not to drink. But I wasn’t capable of doing that. No one’s capable of giving another person the drive to take a step against addition. That I’ve learned. That every person has to
find within themselves. But, in terms of the
things that I can control, I’d take all the good with all the bad. And I don’t think I would change anything. – Well, I wanna move into
talking a little bit about the book itself. And there’s so much that the
students drew out of this book. So much in this memoir. One of the major themes that many of our students picked
up on is the theme of empathy. You talk about empathy, the ability to listen
and understand others, as critical to your
survival as a young child. You also talk about empathy as important to your professional success. To connecting with a jury. And then you talk about empathy, really, what I see as
the breakdown of empathy, in the powerful analogy you draw between your neighborhood in the Bronx and William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. How do you practice empathy
in your current role as a Supreme Court justice? And are there limits to that? – I don’t know that I perceive myself as practicing empathy in my work. I see whatever empathy I have
as just being a part of me. When I listen to my colleagues talking about their decision making, I always try to understand what is motivating their position, What is it within them that draws them to a particular position that makes them think and reach certain
ways of analyzing a problem. And, to that extent, I
almost do it naturally. It’s like, if I don’t really
understand what motivates you, it’ll be almost impossible to convince you to change your mind. Because people only change their mind when the problems they see in a position are somehow dealt with. Whatever your needs are, you take a position based on those needs. And, if I wanna change your mind, I have to explain how your needs can be addressed in a different way. And perhaps in a way that will
be less hurtful to others. And that, to me, is what empathy is. Not necessarily agreeing
with someone else. But at least understanding
what motivates them. And that’s what I talk about in my book is that kind of empathy. The one that says, “No, I
don’t have to agree with you. But I don’t have to vilify you, either. I can understand what you’re saying. I can understand the why of it and try to explain why that why can be met in another way.” That’s what judging is, isn’t it? That’s what being a human being should be. I think, if we did that, you would resolve most
disagreements in less rancor. – Let me follow up with that. By virtually every metric that I… – I hate being this far
away from the audience. – I know. (laughter) It’s almost like they’re not even here. – Yeah, it’s a little scary, you know? I know you’re all out there. Next time, move me forward, okay? (laughter) – I’ll talk to the people. So, by virtually every metric that we political scientists
use who study the court, the Supreme Court is
currently as polarized or as divided ideologically
as it’s been since the 1930s. And yet you and your colleagues describe a kind of collegiality
that exists on the court in spite of these ideological differences. So, my favorite data point on this. Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Antonin
Scalia are good friends. They regularly attend the opera together. For those who don’t speak Supreme Court, that would be like Nancy
Pelosi and Ted Cruz taking in a production of
the Lion King together. (laughter) You just can’t picture it. – That’s the best analogy I’ve ever heard. (laughter and applause) – Now, how do you explain
that collegiality? Maybe empathy plays into that. And does this institution
down the road from you in Washington, DC, the
United States Congress, have a thing or two to learn
from you and your colleagues? (laughter) – I won’t answer that last question. But I’ll answer… – I’ll mark it as a yes. – Okay. (laughter) You’ll mark it any which way. I haven’t said a word. When I first joined the
court in August of 2009, one of the first calls that I received was from my immediate
predecessor Justice David Souter. And we spent some time
talking about the court and about his feelings about Washington, which were very negative. That’s why he left. He really loved his home in New Hampshire and wanted to return
while he was still able to return in an active way. And I appreciated that. He said to me, when he first got there, he would get very frustrated at times with not being able to
convince some of his colleagues that he was right. Or to see things in the way he saw them. And he said that he’d often
leave somewhat anxiety ridden. But that, over time, he realized one fundamental truth that helped him love the court and love even the colleagues that he disagreed the most vehemently with. And that’s the moment
when he understood that all of his colleagues
were people of good will. Every one of them. Every one of us. Because I’ve really understood
what he meant very quickly. I know that each of us, all nine of us, are equally passionate
about the Constitution, about our system of government, about the law as a valuable and important instrument in society. And, if you have that passion, you know that that passion
will show itself sometimes in, to be kind, acerbic decisions. – That’s the understatement of the year. (laughter) – You can read some of
our decisions and wonder, “How do these people talk to each other?” But, if you ever notice, you’ll see that the people
who are the most acerbic are usually the guys losing. And they’re that way because
they want to take you and shake you and make you see reason. And, when they can, you
can really understand the frustration that leads them to express themselves in ways that others might find hurtful. For those of us who are on
the receiving end of that, we remind ourselves we’re the winners. (laughter) Sounds strange, doesn’t it? And, if you’re in that position, you should be more forgiving. Because, some day, you’re
gonna be on the opposite end in another case. I think that that’s exactly what it is. It’s respect for each others’ passion to the extent that you can’t
find a disagreement with others without respecting them. You’re never gonna come to friendship. You can only come to friendship if you truly respect each other. And I think that’s what the court does. And disagreement’s a
little easier to accept when you have that understanding. – Thank you. So, when I solicited
questions from students, I had hundreds of note
cards to sift through. Thank you, guys. I noticed a common theme among students who identify as students of color or first generation college students. In their questions, they describe feeling what I would call imposter syndrome. The feeling that they don’t belong. That they were admitted here by mistake. That, at some point,
the world will find out and discover the gaps in their knowledge. You describe feeling
this way at Princeton. Then later at Yale Law School. And really continuing on
throughout your career. Do you still feel that way
as a Supreme Court justice? And what advice would you
give to our students here who are experiencing this? – It got worse when I joined the court. (laughter) These guys are smart. Every last one of them. And, all of a sudden, I’m engaged in conversation and discussion with some of the smartest
people in the world. Smart not just as lawyers, but as citizens and
as, almost all of them, as great readers, people
interested in the world, both in its politics but in
its science, in its culture. And it’s a little intimidating from a kid from the South Bronx whose favorite music is jazz and salsa to listen to Ruth Bader
Ginsberg at an event introduce an opera singer
and get up and say, “You know, I remember this person’s first appearance at the Met in New York. They sang this role. And this particular aria was amazing.” She goes to every performance of the opera in the Kennedy Center. She’s done this for years
and years and years. I can’t remember the show I saw last week. (laughter) And she’s remembering this person and exactly the role
that they’ve shown in. Do I like the opera? It got better when they put subtitles on. Then I could understand it. But I’d rather still go
see a dance performance. (laughter) – [Amanda] We have a
dancer in the audience. – Yes, clearly. It’s hard in that world
not to feel that you… Or to feel that you don’t belong. It is very, very difficult, coming from a background like mine, seeing writers talk about
how different you are from the others, not to feel a bit intimidated. Not to feel some of the imposter syndrome. I try to explain what I do in my book. And that is I acknowledge
what I’m feeling. Because I think the first
step in changing anything is being truthful about it. And being truthful enough to say, “No, I may not be
cultured in the same way. I may never be Ruth Bader Ginsberg and have her total recall of opera. But I do my own thing. And it has value, too.” And that’s the same for anyone
with the imposter syndrome. Which is, if you’re
comparing yourself to others, you’re often gonna find
yourself short on something. Especially if they have a background that’s different than your own. But you’re there for a reason. You’re there to do something
that’s unique to you. And, in fact, in my first year there where my insecurities
were at their height, both Justice Breyer and
Justice Souter said to me that every new justice goes
through a period of time asking themselves, “Why am I here?” So, it’s not unique to me. And it was wonderful for
them to admit that to me. And that’s something that all of you who feel that imposter
syndrome have to start doing. Which is don’t measure
yourself against others. Measure yourself against you. How much have you done
to get where you are? And take pride in that. Because that adds to the
richness of your university and of the place that you’re in. There’s been salsa dancing
in the Supreme Court. (laughter) – I’ve heard. (applause) So, this is the final
question from me here. And then I will release
you down to the people. You confess in your memoir
to knowing very little about higher education growing up. You said it was a black
box for those growing up in underrepresented
and impoverished areas. You recall a narrative when
you were applying to college and your friend Kenny Moi
called you up and said, “Try for the Ivy Leagues.” And your response was… – What’s an Ivy League? (laughter) – If you knew then what you knew now, would you have done anything differently? Or what advice would you
give for our students here? How should they spend their four years? I mean, apart from clearly choosing Pomona College over Princeton. (laughter) That’s… – Well, I spoke a little bit about it earlier in a different form. You know, back then, one of the reasons I chose Princeton was because it was close to home. And I was a little bit afraid
of getting too far from home. You know, it was a security blanket that I could make it home
in an hour and a half, maybe two hours with traffic. I got into a California school. And I didn’t even come visit. ‘Cause I thought, “Look, I’m
not gonna move that far away.” I wish I had had greater sense of security so I could make decisions not
based on those kinds of fears. And I think that drives
a lot of decision making. And it may be the thing
that hampers most people. You say, “I don’t wanna take
that course because it’s hard.” Well, a lot of courses are hard. And a lot of courses you do take are hard. And you still get through them. And, if a course seems to offer some value to your knowledge base, to your growth as an
individual and as a scholar, then don’t run away from the course. Tackle it. Even if you don’t perform at an A level, you’ll get a great sense of satisfaction in learning something new that you may never have known about. There is very few or very
little direct correlation between what you learn in school and what you actually do in real life. Maybe that’s different for academics, but it’s certainly not
true for most people, okay? For most people, this knowledge is not directly applicable to anything. But what it does is it improves
your background of knowledge that helps you figure out how to face the new challenges as you
move forward in your life. And it helps you deal and become
a more interesting person. Would I do something different? I think I would’ve explored
schools further away from home. I think I may have become
a little less enamored of living in a nonurban environment. I mean, one of the
reasons I picked Princeton was it seemed idyllic to me. In my projects, they were
fairly new when we moved in and there was no such thing as sod and we had a lot of dirt. And not a whole lot of grass. And the trees they planted were scrawny little things
that barely had leaves. I went to Princeton and
there’s this lush green campus with these collegiate Gothic buildings. And I was seduced. I thought to myself, “This is like stepping into a fairy tale.” Well, I don’t know that I really should have
stepped into a fairy tale. Although Princeton, for
a lot of other reasons, turned out to be right. I think, if I were a student again, I would look for environments that provided me with learning in a way that would be different than what I had. I would pick a college who
gave me a learning experience that would teach me something and teach me in method and approach something that I had not learned yet. I would explore knowledge more
for the sake of knowledge. You should enjoy your years in college. College should not be a chore. It should be fun. Learning should be fun. And too many of you, as I was, get caught up in the grades
instead of the process. Instead of enjoying that process of learning and expanding and growing. If you can keep that attitude, I think college will remain fun. And it’ll be something that you value. There’s a lot of pressure
to do well in college. I’m not gonna say ignore
the pressure completely. I don’t want you going out there and just taking dance classes, okay? (laughter) But I do want you not to forget the enjoyment part of learning. – Alright, thank you. (applause) – Alright, I’m glad I talked you guys into letting me get off the stage. I feel caged up here, okay? From my book, you’ll know
that I was a very active child and my family dubbed me
Aji, which is hot pepper. Because I jumped around all the time. Well, I’m a lot older now. And my mother still says I’m an aji. I go visit her and she’ll say, “Why don’t you just sit down for a while?” I haven’t been able to. So, I’m gonna get up and
wander among you, okay? (applause) But there is one problem. Around the room, you’ll see these very professional looking
men and women in suits. And they have little earplugs on. Well, they’re my marshals. And I tell everyone they’re not here to protect me from you. They’re here to protect me from me. (laughter) I think they would prefer I
didn’t go in the audience, but I’m gonna do it anyway. (laughter and applause) But I do respect their job. And, if you get up and
try to hug me or crowd me, they get a little frightened. (laughter) And, when they get frightened, they pull me off the auditorium. So, I’ll walk around. I’ll shake your hand. I’ll touch your shoulder. But please don’t get up, okay? Alright, I’m gonna start which way? You see, they tell me where to start. (laughter) Oh, this is so much better. The lights are not blinding me. Thank you guys. Thank you. – [Amanda] You’re welcome. (applause) – [Sonia] Hi, who are you. – My name is Jonathan Contraras. I’m from Oxnard, California and I study English and Legal Studies here at Pomona College. – Wow, that’s pretty impressive. Alright, the one thing you get for asking a question is a picture. (laughter) You had to do some work to
come up with a question, right? – I’m fine with that,
if you wanna move on. – Tell me your question. – First… (speaking Spanish) (applause) (speaking Spanish) – They told me to use this. I almost forgot. Hello. It works. There’s feedback if I
continue using the… Please, go ahead. – So, as a pre-law Latino and the first in my
family to attend college, I’ve noticed a trend in both
my studies and career ventures. As I continue along the
path to a career in law, I am more and more isolated by the lack of representation of Latinos in academia and the legal profession, but also from my family and culture as I am forced to change myself to fit the expectations of
this professional space. My question for you, Your Honor, is how do you navigate
spaces that do not reflect and potentially do not
welcome your identity while also maintaining a
connection with your roots? (applause) – If you want people to listen, you have to be better than they are. You have to know their game. You have to know how to play it. Not just well. But better than they do. And so, yes, you have to learn
things that you didn’t know. You have to adopt the ability to speak in ways that might be different than what you learned earlier in your life. I’m certainly better
educated, more articulate than I was when I was younger. As I learned to master English, I became better at those skills. But it doesn’t mean that you
have to lose yourself in that. I can still dance salsa. Badly, but I do it. (laughter) I speak Spanish. And I maintain my language. Not as well as I should. Every time I meet with Mommy and we go to Puerto Rico together, the first two days,
all she does is cringe. (laughter) (speaking Spanish) (laughter) Translated, daughter,
please speak Spanish more. But, after two days, I get into the rhythm and my memory of the language comes back. But, when I’m in the
courtroom, I’m a justice. And that’s the role that I play. Not play. But that’s the role I fill. And I don’t spend time trying
to be something different than what the role needs. Because, to gain peoples’ respect, I have to be able to do what they do and do it as well as they do it. So, hold on to who you
are is not a question of learning how to improve yourself in a different area or
with a different skill. It’s holding onto the values that your culture has taught you. To learn that it’s not bad to love family, to love our food, to love our dance, to love our music, to love our poetry, to revel in using your hands. (laughter) To revel in playing jazz and not opera, to revel in all of the things
that makes you a Latino. If you give that up, that’s your choice. Because you don’t have to. You can do both things. It is not impossible. (applause) – Thank you. (applause) – What did they tell me? They tell me to come back the same aisle. This is really bad. (laughter) Alright, hello. – [Jessica] Hello. – [Sonia] Tell me who you are. – My name is Jessica Than. And I am from Irvine, California. And I am a first year
here at Pomona College. – I was just in Irvine not too long ago. What a beautiful place. I had never been there before. – It’s a wonderful place. – I know. So’s this one, though. – Yes. I, of course, would like
to take the opportunity to thank you for being here tonight and sharing your story with all of us. – And your question? – My question is what is
the most difficult decision that you’ve had to make
outside of the courtroom? (laughter) – You know, regrettably,
this week reinforced the difficulty of the decision I made. Any number of years ago,
about 2005, I think, my mother was diagnosed
with failing memory. And I knew that she was on
the last chapter in her life, not in the first. Not even in the middle anymore. And she lives in Florida. And I was already beginning to think I needed to spend more time with her. That I needed to sort of
make time in my busy schedule as a then judge to travel to see her more. And, when I was called by the president to see if I was interested in letting him vet me for the Supreme Court, I actually thought hard
about the sacrifices, not that I had to make, but that my family and
friends would have to make. I was gonna leave New York. And my family, most of it is either in New York or Puerto Rico. My friends, I had some in DC, but most of my friends were in New York. And I realized that I would have less time for all those people
who meant so much to me. Well, two things happened. I called my mom and I said to her, “Mommy, I’m worried about this. I might not be able, at moments, to be there when you need me. And I don’t know that I wanna do that.” And she said, and it
turned out to be true, “You don’t have to do it all. Your brother will do more.” (laughter and applause) And he said the same thing to me. But the second thing she said,
and the more important one, she said to me, “Sonia,
I worked my entire life. I sacrificed everything
for you and Junior.” My brother’s Juan, but we call him Junior. “For you and Junior. Don’t take this away from me.” (laughter) So, I finally did say
yes to the president. It was a very, very hard decision. And one that I knew that, with all the positives of what being a supreme justice could give me, that it would also give me some negatives. And, this past week… And this is private among us. Last week, my stepfather died. I was in the middle of a two week sitting. I was able to break away
on Saturday and Sunday. On Sunday and Monday. And I got to say goodbye to him. But I left. My brother came in. And my stepfather died on Wednesday. And I didn’t get back to
Florida until that Sunday. Because I had commitments
I just couldn’t break. And, not one that I’m sad about, but I had commitments here today. And so, I left my mother last night and I would have liked
to have stayed longer. So, I’m serving, but so is my family. And that’s a hard, hard
decision for anybody. Because it never is just you. We don’t walk in this life alone. We walk with others who make sacrifices to help us do things. Not just for ourselves,
but for others, too. – [Jessica] Thank you. (applause) – Alright, who do I have now? – Hi there. My name is Spencer Hammersmith
and I’m from Miami, Florida. I’m a first year here at Pomona College. And I just want to say thank you so much for being here with us today. So, my question is, during
your confirmation process, much scrutiny was directed towards a singular comment you made about the unique perspective a wise Latino woman could bring to judging. Given how freely the youth of today voice our opinions on
social media, et cetera, how will the public documentation of these offhanded thoughts
affect the political process or public scrutiny of public officials? – That’s such a great question. – Thank you. – And I’m gonna talk to all
of the students in this room. (laughter) The Internet is indelible. When you strike the delete
button on your computer, it deletes it from the
face of your screen. It does not delete it from
the memory of your computer or of the Internet provider
that has given you access. It’s there for as long as you live and probably a lot after. And so, today, when you
apply for a government job, you give permission for the government to go on any site where you have, like Facebook or any of
those Twitter accounts. You have to friend the government. (laughter) And you have to let them roam at will. Anything you say on social
media is there forever. And anything you say
will be used against you. The Fifth Amendment does
not apply to social media. (laughter) And, look, you always have to accept that your behavior in public is
going to be held against you. There was a young, brilliant woman in one of the law schools
who took a job at a law firm and indiscretely decided at the firm party on a dock in New York that
she wanted to go for a swim. And did it in the buff. Alright. When I was looking through applications, someone said to me go on the
computer, find out about her. As soon as I read that,
I thought to myself, “Hmm, I don’t think I really
want to interview her.” Okay. Now, she may have turned into a lovely, judgment-filled person. But she will have to work
probably her entire life to undo the impression of that moment. And so, when you’re on
social media, all of you, before you touch the send button, try to figure out what will
happen 30 years from now when you want an important position. Will what you said and
what you thought hurt you? And, if you answer that yes,
touch no, I’m not sending. – Thank you. (applause) – And, mind you, I don’t think
the wise Latina comment… I said it when I was a judge. I wish I had been more precise. – Hello. I am Emily Zhang from Arcadia, California. I am currently a first
year at Pomona College. And it’s wonderful to have you here. – Thank you. – So, my question is, recently, the pope came to address
the United States Congress. You were one of four
Supreme Court justices to attend his address. Though you mentioned
Catholicism’s presence in your early life, its influence is not attributed to much more than your education. At one point, you were even
disenchanted by religion because a priest would
not help your mother because she did not go
to church regularly. Has Catholicism or your Catholic faith had any influence on your
adult journey so far? And, if so, how? (laughter) – The answer, in short, is yes. And the reason is much,
much more fundamental than people understand. I attribute the fact that I have chosen to live what I consider a
giving life, a good life, to my Catholicism. The one thing about Catholicism is that it teaches you that the
good and evil in the world is a choice that you make. How you choose to live
your life is your choice. And, to that extent, I always attribute the reason that I want to give, that I want to live a good life, not necessarily to entering Heaven, but because I understand that that kind of goodness
makes for a better world. And so, for me, that’s just
fundamental to who I’ve become. And I think that religion… It doesn’t matter if it’s Catholicism or some other religion. Virtually all religions… They may not speak in terms of good and evil or sin or not sin. But all of them are teaching you to look more deeply at yourself and at your role in the world. And they’re challenging
you to be less material and much more spiritual. And that choice is obviously
one that we all confront. Some people choose a path
that I would not have chosen because of what I’ve
learned in my religion. I think it’s dangerous
to think of religion as merely the practice on Sunday. Religion has to be what you do every day. And religion has to be how
you treat people every day. (applause) – Thank you. (applause) – Good evening. – Do we have somebody else? Hello. – Hi. (laughter) My name is Jerry Yan. I’m a sophomore here at Pomona. I don’t know what I’m studying. I’m really jealous that
some people came before me. Like yourself, I was an
extemper in high school. And my question today is
a little more lighthearted than the ones that came before and the ones that are gonna come after. (laughter) It has to do with frozen yogurt. (laughter) So, the Supreme Court’s institution of many, many traditions. My favorite tradition that
I’ve heard of, however, is a newer one that Chief
Justice Roberts started, which is having newly
commissioned justices serve on the cafeteria committee. Now, one of your colleagues,
Justice Elena Kagan, is rather proud of at
least one achievement from her tenure on that committee, which is bringing a frozen yogurt machine to the Supreme Court. (laughter) I’d like to know what you did during your short tenure on
the cafeteria committee. (laughter and applause) And, more generally, how other
traditions have gone for you. – Okay. (laughter) At the end of my tenure on
the cafeteria committee, the Washington Post did an evaluation of all of the cafeterias in the government buildings in Washington. The Supreme Court received a failing D. (laughter) I don’t announce that
fact with the same pride that Justice Kagan announces
the yogurt machine. I make no excuses. I couldn’t control the
kitchen enough, okay? But, in more seriousness, the court is filled with traditions. And you’re right. That’s a fun one. Elena Kagan is now, I
think, on her 5th year. Justice Breyer was there
as the youngest member of the court for 11. He’s very sad that he
didn’t break the record of time by a few weeks. He admitted the other day that he regrets that he didn’t
call Elena Kagan and say, “Delay your swearing in.” She couldn’t have. But the traditions have value. And it’s a value that I respect. Even when, sometimes,
I’m frustrated by them. We have, for example, there’s
an order of seniority. And everything we do is in that order. When you watch us coming
out to see the pope or to go to the President’s
State of the Union, we’re stepping out in the
order of our seniority. We walk into court in the
order of our seniority. At lunchtime, we don’t do that. That’s the only tradition. But, even with that tradition,
there’s a tradition. Without that tradition,
there’s still a tradition. You sit in the lunchroom in the same seat your predecessor did. They could take that seat
and probably trace it back to the beginning of the Supreme Court. A little crazy, isn’t it? There’s traditions about
how we announce things, what our opinions do. Before Justice O’Connor came to the court, every Supreme Court case
said Mister Justice Blank. When Sandra Day O’Connor came, they had a long discussion
about breaking that tradition. You would have thought
it was simple, right? Didn’t work out that way. After a while, they
decided to do away with the mister, mrs, madam,
gentleman, whatever. But why are those traditions important? We are not just individuals.
With our own wants or likes about how to do things. We are part of an institution. And, if you can bear that in mind, you can control your
own sense of grandeur. It’s a way of putting us and
keeping our feet on the ground. Because we understand that this institution will live longer than us. And that we’re charged with
honoring its traditions because it’s not the
traditions that are important. It’s the institution that
created them that’s important. And so, for me, whether it’s being the head of the cafeteria committee or not speaking out of turn at conference, those are things that have a purpose. And they keep us respecting each other and working with each other. And so, I’m glad you like
one of our traditions. (laughter) – [Jerry] Thank you. (applause) – [Sonia] Do we have another student? Okay. – Hi, I’m Shio Chatraborty. I’m a Pomona freshman. This is my question. In My Beloved World, you talk about your experience with Accion Puertorriquena and you describe your disillusionment with militant politics. Indeed, your whole life
seems to be a testament to that spirit of reform over revolution. However, there are many who believe that political militancy and protests are the best way to demand reform. And particularly we can point to the Black Lives Matter Movement against police brutality and
institutional racism today. – You have to slow down. – I’m sorry. I was told that there’s a lack of time. – You know, that’s what I
tell lawyers all the time. I gotta think about what you’re saying. Slow down. – Okay, alright. So, however there are
many who believe that political militancy and protests are the best way to demand reform. And, particularly, we can point to the Black Lives Matter Movement against police brutality
and institutional racism. My question to you is do you think militant politics have any place in today’s political sphere? And, if so, when should
we pursue quiet pragmatism and when should we move to
vocal militancy instead? Thank you. – You know, people often ask me, “How do you deal with discrimination?” As if there’s one magic
formula to everything. It’s like, for years, we
lived with the thought there was gonna be a
miracle cure for cancer. And what we found out is there’s
a lot of different cancers. And some respond to some treatments and others to other treatments. Well, life is that way, too. There’s no magic formula to tell you when one form of approaching a problem is better than another. What you have to do is use judgment. And that judgment has to tell you the moment in which
protest is important to do because it’ll have an impact. And others where protests
will have no impact, because people are just
gonna put their backs up and never respond to you. Look, the protests
against the Vietnam War, they were hurtful to a lot of veterans. They were hurtful to families of veterans who lost their children or the parents of people in the military
who lost their children. Were the protests necessary? Did they change things? You read books about President Nixon and you understand that it did. And that it motivated his
approach to ending that war. Was it right? Every choice comes at a cost. If you’re a compromiser, like I am, a practical person, like I am, I’m willing to give up
some things to get others. But I’ve given some
things up when I do that. So, my point is that there’s no way for me to tell you when
one is right or wrong. What I will tell you is, if you get stuck in one mode always, it’s gonna stop being effective. You have to flexible enough
to look at each situation standing on its own and deciding what that situation requires or what the best approach
is in that situation. I tell women lawyers, young
student lawyers, women lawyers, it’s okay to be soft spoken. You don’t have to scream
like a lot of men do. Or be loud like some of them are. But there are moments
where you have to know how to be stern to get attention. So, you can’t let your
style control the outcome. You have to choose your style according to the need of the situation. (applause) – You see the lights going on. Which means that… – I should have answered that
question with an example. When I was at my law firm, (laughter) I was there very late one night. And we ran out of paper. I was furious. I had been working all night
at a law firm without paper? And the practical, compromising
me came into the office. I stormed into the office
of the managing partner. And I hit his table and I said, “This is not a way to run a law firm.” (laughter) He was startled. And, when I told him what happened, he said, “Okay, Sonia, okay. We’re gonna fix it. We’re gonna fix it.” And, sure enough, they
hired an office manager. I never ran out of paper again. (laughter) Small example, but that’s
not generally my style. You’re the last question? I’m at the end? No? Oh, hold on. (laughter) No, no, no, I’ll take one individually. I’m being told I have to go soon. So, I have to answer you fast, okay? (laughter) – Okay, so, I’m Jamila Spinoza. A sociology and American studies major from Richmond, California. I’m first gen, low income. Going to college here has been hard. And my question is how do you pass on the knowledge that you’ve acquired going through such a momentous
and draining and exhausting, but also a very valuable process? – That’s actually one
of the best questions. I really believe in paying
back and paying forward. I’m a great, great believer in that. We have an obligation for those of us who have come from the backgrounds we have who have reached a privilege that most of our community members don’t have. We have an obligation. You can’t choose to live
your life just for yourself. That’s just not something that you should ever choose to do. Because you’re here
because of all the people who came before you who opened the doors to this college to you. And you have to keep… (applause) Those doors open for the
kids who come after you. Now, I’ve done that, in part, by a book. I visit students at high
schools, middle schools, colleges, law schools,
professional schools. And I try to do some of that. But you don’t have to do it on my scale. You can do it on your own scale by making sure that, every year, you go back to your high
school to career day to whatever day they have, alumni day, and you talk to the kids
who are coming behind you. And tell them about, yes,
that college is hard, but about how much you’ve learned. And that’s your obligation
starting on small steps. As you get more successful in life, you can reach more widely. But you take it small steps first. And you widen your steps
as your skills grow and as your position in society grows. But the one thing you can’t do is forget where you came from. (applause) – Please join me in
thanking Justice Sotomayor for joining us and wish her safe travels. (applause) – Thank you. (applause) This man was a member of the
California Supreme Court, Cruz Reynoso, and… (applause) He’s one of the people who
opened the door for me. And who I admire greatly. (applause) – [Gilda] Good evening. Please join us on the North
Portico for a reception following this event. (classical music)

7 thoughts on “Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor at Pomona College (Full Video)

  • Martin Sicilian Post author

    So honored to have Associate Justice Sotomayor at my college. What a fantastic experience!

  • Dee Stonewall Post author

    Such a warm person. Inclusive. Non-judgmental. Empathic. As she describes her life in "My Beloved World." All of us are so fortunate to have her sitting on SCOTUS.

  • Sheila Ashby Schultz Post author

    Powerful Messages for All

  • Cinthya Colindres Post author

    Ohhh my ,!!!! I wished to be there !! 😭😭😭😭 I really admire you , you are my Latina hero !!!

  • NY OneLove Post author

    What a powerful and important Justice. Between Sotomayor and Ginsburg to be the most caring of people of all walks of life.

  • Em Jay Post author

    this woman I swear, is so loveable.

  • Ayesha Karim Post author

    I love how Justice Sotomayor says to "hold on to who you are" oh my gosh that is so beautiful to hear her say! I also love that she says it's okay to be soft spoken but at the same time you have to be stern.

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