U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor at UC Berkeley

U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor at UC Berkeley

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(soothing music) – Good afternoon. (audience murmurs) I am Na’ilah Nasir. I serve as the vice chancellor for equity and inclusion. (cheers and applause) On behalf of the University
of California, Berkeley, Berkeley Law and the Division
of Equity and Inclusion, I wanna extend a warm welcome to you all. I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I am for the conversation this afternoon. (cheers and applause) I have the honor and
privilege of introducing our very special guest and her conversant for the afternoon. These are two powerhouse women. (cheers and applause) But before I get to that, I have a few acknowledgements. I wanna first thank the staff that did all of the planning and execution for the event this afternoon. This was a collective effort from Law and Equity and Inclusion,
and folks just went above and beyond to make sure that all the processes were smooth and organized. I’d also like to thank the security staff and others who made it possible for us to be here this afternoon. Thank you. (cheers and applause) You should know that the
tickets for this event sold out in less than five minutes. (audience murmurs ) I think that’s some kinda record, and rumor is is that it was even faster than the Bill Clinton tickets. Just saying. (cheers and applause) No shade to Bill, no shade to Bill. I’d also like to (laughter)
congratulate you all on your lightning fast
response times. (laughter) Some quick reflexes in this group. With no further ado, I’d like to introduce our moderator, interim
dean of Berkeley Law, Melissa Murray. (cheers and applause) Some fans in the house. Interim Dean Murray got
her undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia, and her JD from Yale University. After law school, she clerked for Justice Sonia Sotomayor, then of the US Court of Appeals
for the Second Circuit. She has been at Berkeley Law since 2006. She has published prolifically, examining the roles of
criminal law and family law, that those things play in articulating the legal parameters of intimate life, such as marriage, sex and sexuality, and reproductive rights. She has won numerous awards and accolades as a scholar, including the Association of American Law
Schools’ Derrick A. Bell Award in 2010. She has served in the role as interim dean for just about a year. I was on the committee that
selected her. (laughter) Just saying. I take some credit. (laughs) (applause) She stepped into that role in an incredibly challenging time, and has executed the position with tremendous grace,
poise, strength and vision. The university owes here
a great debt of gratitude. (applause) Now I’d like to introduce
our very special guest this afternoon. Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor hails from the Bronx, New York. (cheers and applause) She earned a BA from Princeton University, graduating summa cum laude, and receiving the university’s highest academic honor. She earned a JD from Yale Law School, where she served as an editor of the Yale Law Journal. After law school, she served in a variety of capacities, including as assistant district attorney in the New York County District Attorney’s Office. She then litigated
international commercial matters in New York City at Pavia and Harcourt, where she served as an
associate and then partner. In 1991, President George H.W. Bush nominated her to the US District Court, Southern District of New York. She then served as a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit from 1998 to 2009. On May 26th, 2009, President Barack Obama nominated her as an associate justice of the Supreme Court, a role she assumed August 8th, 2009. (applause and cheers) Unbeknownst to her, she has also been a virtual mentor to me, and
I’m sure countless others, who find inspiration in
the power of her journey, her strength and her integrity. I have to tell you, when I was first appointed as VCEI, one of the first things I did was buy her autobiography. I was looking for models of what it meant to be a woman of color in power. (applause and cheers) It is an incredible book. I highly recommend it. For me, what’s really striking about her and about the way that
she writes this text is the way that she
maintains full integrity and connection to her
cultural and familial self, even as she has reached
such incredible levels of professional achievement. Yes. Justice Sotomayor has
been a regular visitor to campus in recent years. We thank Berkeley Law for
sharing her this time. (laughter) She first came to Berkeley Law in 2001, and again in 2011, after she was elevated to the Court. Each time, she has been warmly received by the Berkeley community, and especially by our students, many of whom strongly identify with her personal story. Last year, the justice took her first clerk ever from Berkeley Law, Easha Anand, who graduated from law school in 2014. (applause and cheers) So let’s extend a warm Berkeley welcome to Interim Dean Murray
and Justice Sotomayor. (cheers and applause) – Thank you. Thank you. (cheers and applause) You have no idea how overwhelming that is. (cheers) – This is Berkeley. This is Berkeley. – I know, I know. – [Audience Member] Thanks, Berkeley. Yeah, Sonia. (cheers and applause) – Melissa and I, Dean
Murray and I, (laughter) were sitting in the
back a few moments ago. She looked up and she said, “I never imagined this 16 years ago.” I said to her, “Neither did I.” (laughter) It’s true. It’s been a long road. – [Melissa] It’s been a long road. – It has been. – That’s a good place to start. This audience is testament to how much your personal story resonates with the Berkeley students, faculty and staff. Just as Na’ilah said,
this is a packed house, and one where the tickets were distributed in under five minutes. One of the things I think
is really resonant here is that you have always
been incredibly authentic about your experience. It was one of the first things that I noticed when I came to interview with you. I interviewed with the justice in 2000 during my second year of law school. We had a personal interview, and she began asking me questions. I had all of these plans about what I was gonna talk to you about, how I was going to be so smart
and talk about the law. (laughter) You asked me questions about my family. I told you about how I was raised by a single mother after
my father passed away, and that my father had had diabetes and they were immigrants,
and all of these things. On the way home to New
Haven, I was sobbing because I thought that
I had blown my chance. Here I had been so unbelievably personal in telling a story, a story I hadn’t told my classmates at law
school, and I told you. It really wasn’t until I read your book that I realized that
for all of these years, I had thought that I had been selected as a clerk in spite of
this enormous gaffe, but when I read your book, I realized I’d been selected because of it, because there we so many commonalities. – That’s absolutely true. (applause) Every single interview starts
with tell me about you. I start with saying I wanna hear about your family, your mom
and dad, what they do, your siblings, where you grew up and what your experience was like. I’m not searching for people
who are identical to me. As you know from my law clerk body, it’s very, very varied. But what I’m looking for are people who have experienced life in some form of richness. Sometimes it’s challenges,
and sometimes it’s not. It’s just someone who comes from fairly well-to-do background,
but who, in relaying the story, shows me that they deeply care about the people in their life. I want people who are passionate. Exhibit number one. (laughter) They have to be committed, like you are, to things that are important. They’re not all the same, but they have to be committed to making a contribution to the world in some way. That’s why, yes, you’re right. You were chosen because of it, not in spite of it. – I am still very grateful for having been chosen. We had a wonderful year on the court, but, of course, you went onto bigger and better things, so
can we talk a little bit (laughter) about your current situation? (laughter) We can’t talk about
matters that are pending before the Court or that
may come before the Court, which means we’ve ruled
out quite a lot of content. (laughter) – Do you want me to explain why? – We know that you have to remain neutral and objective. We want you to be able to preside and be a part of those deliberations. We wouldn’t want you to recuse yourself. – There’s a lot of people who ask me, do justices read the newspapers? I laugh and I say, how do you think we got to where we are? (laughter) No justice is non-political. We’re political either
with a big P or a small p. By that, I mean, and I’m robbing the words of a dear friend of mine,
Judge Martin Feldman out of New Orleans, who said, “Many people “who become federal judges
come from political jobs.” They’ve been solicitor generals, they’ve been US attorneys. Some of them have run for elective office. Others are political,
like I was, in a small p. I was a partner at a law firm, but I was involved in a lot
of community activities, including the Puerto Rican Legal
Defense and Education Fund. (applause) At the time of my nomination, that seemed to be a negative for a lot of people, but I always thought of it
as a positive in my life. We are engaged in the world and we pay attention to what’s
happening in the world. But if I stood here
and told you how I felt about the legal issues that the court is going to be presented
with in the near future, you wouldn’t trust my
fairness or impartiality. You would have good reason to doubt whether I could remain
sufficiently neutral and have an open mind to
let the parties before me convince me of their position. That’s why, for me, if you
get a prospective judge who tells you ever,
“I’m gonna rule this way in that case,” you don’t want that person because that means that person is making a commitment to you
before they’ve listened to the parties before them. Yes, I’ve eliminated a lot, but I’ve left open a whole world. – I have a question about the Court that doesn’t have anything to do with pending matters or possible matters. We all know in February that the Court lost a colleague, Justice Antonin Scalia. I think it’s fair to say that most would agree that you and Justice Scalia were not necessarily ideologically aligned in your judicial philosophies (laughter) or your views of many cases. – That’s true. (laughter) – But you were friends. – Yes. (laughter) – I think there’s a lesson in that. We are living in divided political times, and yet we somehow need
to make common cause with people who don’t see things the way that we do. What are the lessons that you learned from your friendship with Justice Scalia about working across the aisle, making common cause, even with people whose views you don’t share? – You’ll be surprised to know that Justice Scalia and I agree about 67% of the time. It’s a pretty high statistic when you think about it. Given our differences,
you would imagine, how? The answer is that we were both passionate about the same thing. We both are very passionate about the law, about the Constitution and
about our system of government. We did disagree, and not infrequently, about what the right answer was to promote those institutions, but we never, ever doubted each other’s goodwill. We never, ever doubted
each other’s commitment to doing the right thing. We differed on what the right thing was, and you’re gonna live in a world where it’s gonna be nearly
impossible to find anyone who you’ll agree with 100%. On the court, I vote most closely aligned to Justice Ginsburg. We have a very high, high
percentage of agreement, and despite that, every year we have a percentage of disagreement. It’s not that she has any ill will or that I possess any. It’s that we have different perspectives. That’s the value of a court of nine, like the Supreme Court. It’s the belief that for
the most important questions facing the country, we’re not relying on the judgment of one person. Think about it. You go to trial before a single district court judge or a trial judge. If you’re going to argue
that a legal mistake was made, your first stop is on an appellate court with three judges. Three heads, there’s a
belief, are better than one. If you’re going to have an entity like the Supreme Court make a final decision on what the Constitution
means in a particular setting, or what a statute means, as far as we can discern from Congress’ actions up to that point, you want nine people. You want nine people with different views and different perspectives in the hope that at least five of them
will get it really right. (laughter) Now, given how much I dissent, those five are not often always right. (laughter) (applause) By listening to them,
by carefully considering their views, I become a better judge. All of our decisions,
whether it’s the majority or the dissent, are much better opinions because we challenge
each other’s premises, because we know what
each other’s strongest arguments are and we’ve
all had an opportunity to make the most persuasive
counters that we can. I think that that’s what’s missing from people recognizing
that those who disagree with you are not necessarily bad people. Many of them hold some
of the most fundamental values that you do. Many of them love their families unabashedly and completely. Many of them love their neighbors and want to help them as much as they can. Many of them want to make this society a better place. With core values like that, the fact that you can disagree on the answer is something that you
can engage, fight about. Look at our opinions. We’re sometimes a little
acerbic to each other, but we never carry it
into the personal realm. We always talk with each other. Justice Roberts has said that he’s very, very proud that there’s never been angry screaming in our talks. (laughter) There’s been passionate discussion, (laughter) but never. But he’s right, never screaming. I think that if you can keep an open mind, that means that sometimes
they’ll convince you, and other times, you’ll convince them, but you have to be willing to accept that you don’t have all the answers. – Can I switch gears a little bit? – I’m sorry, what? – Can I switch gars a little bit? – Sure. – You taught me that I did not always have all the answers, which I appreciated. (laughter) Believe a lot of students here, and I think a lot of them have, in their time at Berkeley, at some point, maybe felt like they were underestimated, that their talents
weren’t fully recognized or that people. That’s okay. It’s the earrings, I know, I know. (laughter) We’ve done this before. (laughter) – [Woman] Thank you for your patience. – You know, I’ve been taught to wear, or not taught. I have not learned to wear
close-cropped earrings. I like big earrings. (applause and cheers) – You do you. Do you. – I’m me.
– Do you. (laughter) – I’m wiling to change,
but not in everything. (laughter and applause) – I will note that when you were going through your nomination
and confirmation process, you had pale pink nails, but when you were sworn in, you had red nails. (laughter) – I walked up to the president when he was celebrating my
confirmation, and I said, “Do you notice anything different?” He said, “No, Justice.” I held up my fingers (laughter) and said, “They’re red.” (laughter and applause) Anyway, go back to, I interrupt. (laughter) – We’ve done this for years. (laughs) A lot of the students that I’ve seen have often told me that they feel like they’re underestimated,
either because of where they come from
or their backgrounds, that people haven’t always looked at them and fully appreciated the talents that they bring to the table. I think a lot of people can identify with that concern. Has there been a time when you felt like you were underestimated? – Always. – Like when?
– Always. – Details. (laughter) – Look, you’re part of the, part. You were supportive of me during my nomination process. I owe a lot to my law clerks, who came out in force in defense of me. But very early on in
the nomination process, there were a number of newspaper articles accusing me of not being smart enough. – Fake news, fake news. (laughter) – Alternative facts. (laughter and applause) It was very hurtful. I read that. I had spent a career trying to build up my reputation. I thought that I was very well respected and very well liked by my colleagues, and I think that’s largely true. But to read newspaper accounts about how people didn’t think I
was smart or smart enough to be on the Supreme Court, to have a very prominent professor
at Harvard Law School say that I would never
write an important decision, that’s pretty painful. It sets doubts in yourself. I can’t say that I’ve
gone through my career or my life without
questioning both my capacity and my ability to do whatever it is that was before me. Becoming a judge was the most terrifying event of my life. I was convinced I was gonna fail. In keeping with my approach
to about everything in life, I accepted that
possibility and said okay, I’m gonna die trying. In some ways, that statement
is very reflective of me. I’ve only run once in my life, and that was my interview at Harvard, where I interviewed with
someone who scared me so much, and it wasn’t intentional, but she was so different than me that I just felt I didn’t belong at Harvard. I ran out of the interview, didn’t stay for the students to show me the campus, took the train back home. When my mom opened the door and said, “What are you doing here? “You were supposed to spend the night.” I said, “Mom, I don’t belong there.” But I lived with that running for a very, very long time. I got into Princeton, so it wasn’t a bad consolation prize, (laughter) and went to Princeton. I even got into Harvard, Radcliffe then, but I was too scared to go. That sense of insecurity
I’ve always overcome by just trying harder, by breaking down everything I have to do into small, tiny, little steps, and taking each step one step at a time, moving forward. My first year, the first two years on the bench, I was
working seven days a week. I was working 12 to 14 hours. I didn’t have to do that later. I started that way on the Supreme Court. Now I travel more, I come
to events like this more, but my first year, I
basically said to everybody, no, I’m not doing any public speaking. I have to really figure
out how to manage this job. That’s what I devoted myself to doing, which is learning how to manage the work. The president said to
me, during our interview, that he was not the
smartest man in the room, but what he was was the smartest man in the room to figure out the answers that would work. I realized that he probably had suffered from some of the same
insecurities that I had in life, and figured out his strengths. I’m not the smartest person in that Supreme Court room, but
I give myself credit for perhaps having a vision of how the law affects people, and letting that guide me to what I consider to be
the right answers in law. Not everybody, I think, approaches it in the same way. Each of us have our own unique values. It’s important to understand that there’s not one measure of anything. Smarts comes in so many different ways. Perception comes on so
many different levels. Artistry comes in so many different forms. Everything in life is varied, and you just have to have enough confidence to know that you can find your
place in that fabric. If you try and work at it, you’ll make your own contribution. – I think it is undeniable
that you have made an enormous contribution in your time on the court, and that you
will continue to do so. I am getting some hard
stares from law students in the audience who have
(laughter) questions for you. I can feel you all looking at me, so yes, I’m gonna wrap it up. I’m going to leave the
stage, and you’re going to go into the audience,
and then we’ll come back. – Let me tell you that ground rule. You’ll see, it’s awfully dark right now, but when they put up the lights so I can get down, there are these very well dressed marshals in the room. They’re here to protect me, not from you, but from myself. (laughter) They would very, very much prefer that I not wander among you, but I think that’s no fun. (laughter) For the people in the back,
they can barely see me. If I come offstage and move closer to you, you have a better shot of
seeing what I look like. (laughter) I also, if you ever read my book, you’ll learn that I’m a bundle of energy. I don’t like sitting still. I am gonna wander, but you
can’t scare the marshals. (laughter) Don’t jump up because if you jump up, you scare them, and they may pull me out of the audience. I’ll come, I’ll reach over to you. I may give you a few hugs,
even an occasionally kiss. (laughter) But please stay seated, okay, guys? All right, let’s go. We’re gonna wander. (cheers and applause) Okay, let’s see if I can
see where I’m walking. Hold on. They want me to drink water. (laughter) Thank you. Some of you may remember that I broke my ankle during the confirmation process. Not a very smart thing to have done. (laughter) But at any rate, I am now
much, much more cautious about doing things like this. Hello. – Can I get the first hug? – Do you have the question? – No, I said can I get the first hug. – You can get the first hug. (laughter) Come on. (applause) Thank you, thank you. I’m supposed to go this way, I think. Go ahead. What’s your question? – [Audience Member] My
question is how do you feel, in terms what are you engaged in to support people that have been formerly incarcerated to restore their potential to vote and to their voting rights? There’s a large population
that are getting out or been inside that still don’t have voting power. – That is, by an old Supreme Court ruling, a state question. It’s no longer become a federal question because the court, a long time ago, left that to the states. There are lots and lots
of important issues like that one. I think that’s a critical one. What it requires is a lot of lobbying and a lot of work by people of goodwill who care about integrating people who have made mistakes in their life. We’re never going to get rehabilitation, you’re right, until we accept that people who’ve paid their price
in jail and on probation, whatever’s been imposed on them, are permitted to come back into the fold of society and make contributions. One of the most important ways to do that, I agree with you, is voting. But that’s an issue
that’s gonna require work, as so many issues do. I can’t lobby ’cause that’s not my job as a judge. You can, so go out and do it. (applause) Good luck. (applause) Thank you. Hello. – Hi, Justice. Hi, my name is Jai Huan. – Where are you in school here? – I’m a second year here at the UC Berkeley School of Law. – Wonderful. (cheers and applause) – Can I have a hug? – Absolutely. – Thank you so much for
being with us today. As you can tell, I’m very thrilled. (laughter) I have one question. It has been over one
year that there are only eight justices on the Supreme Court. How does that feel different from the previous seven years
you have been serving on the high court? – Hm. – Thank you very much. – There is a difference, by the way. The few oral arguments
after Justice Scalia died, I was asking a lot more questions. I read that in the
newspapers at some point. (laughter) I actually sort of self-monitored because when people say
things, I pay attention. I think about them. I was trying to figure
out why I was doing that. It took me a couple of
arguments to realize that I was filling the dead space during the arguments. With him around, he
usually was the first one to jump in and ask a question. What began to happen is lawyers would get up there, and they’d be talking. I’d see them getting anxious ’cause nobody was interrupting. (laughter) I would jump in and
start the ball rolling. When the questions started to wane, I would tend to do the same thing. I realized, wait a minute,
that’s not my role. I began to constrain
myself a little bit more and sort of pay more attention to letting everybody participate in doing this. I figured out that we finally started filling the void more. We still have probably more arguments now where at the end of the
argument, people are not taking up all of their time. There is an appreciable difference between eight and nine. There is a rhythm to the question asking. That was a palpable, and
has been a palpable change. At conferences, interestingly,
we’re talking more. I think that that’s also a product of only being eight. That one extra person took more time. Well, he liked doing that, anyway. (laughter) I know I can’t go too far back here or these guys can’t see me. I’m gonna try something
in the middle, okay, guys? We are talking more. We are trying to reach consensus more. Last year, I think, Melissa, you probably know better than me now, we only had three four-fours. Three or four split decisions. Some people have asked, and I spoke to some students, a
group of faculty earlier, about why that’s not a good thing. It’s not always a good thing to come to a compromise that avoids a big issue because if we avoid a big issue, it means the issue is still divided
across the country. The reason we take the case
is to settle the issue. If we don’t settle it,
there’s not an answer. Some of those decisions where we’ve reached compromise, we’ve done justice in the individual case, but we may not have necessarily done
justice for the needs of the society because
the issue we granted cert on was a big question
that needed answering. There is no question that
we miss Justice Scalia. He was a big personality,
a really big personality, and he was fun. It was not unusual that we’d walk into an argument, or even be at conference, and he would have just heard something or read something that set
off a song in his head. (laughter) All of a sudden, we’d have a ditty, him singing a ditty. (laughter) His jokes could be very, very funny. He is very, very missed. – [Jai] Thank you so much. – Thank you. Hello. They told me I couldn’t go to that side because there was no way
for me to move through. That means this aisle here is gonna have to stand up so I
can go to the other side. (laughter) Hello. Hi, hi. I’m gonna come. – [Alfredo] Mucho gusto, Justice. My name is Alfredo Diaz. I am a second year law student at Berkeley, Boalt Hall. – Hello. (applause) – Can I get a hug? – [Alfredo] We’re all very
pleased to have you here. Thank you for coming, giving us your time. Federal judges have to swear or affirm that they will do equal right to the rich and to the poor. I just wanted to know what
that oath meant to you. – Many of my friends get, hello, very frustrated with me because there’s a big case coming up. They’ve read about it,
they’ve heard about it. They will ask me, who’s
the lawyer on the case? I tell them until I get to the courtroom, I don’t know. I don’t look at the names of the lawyers who are arguing the cases before me ’cause I have never, ever wanted the prestige of the lawyer to determine my reaction to the case. That’s always been my way of controlling the influence of money and the quality of lawyering that it could buy. I’ve always tried to look at each case on its merits. I think that that’s what it’s always meant to me. It has meant ensuring
that for everything I do, that the most important focus that I should have is on the person before me, not on their background,
not on their color, not on their religion, not on anything other than as a human
being with a problem, and one that they’re asking me to help solve for them. Now, embedded in your question is, does the judicial system succeed
in honoring that phrase, for the rich and for the poor? Not that well. (laughter) We still don’t have enough lawyers in a position to do public interest work because lawyers have
to eat, too. (laughter) They have student debts they have to pay, they have families they have to support. We don’t have enough
lawyers volunteering time to serve the needy adequately. We have an imperfect
criminal justice system. I know it because I see cases from around the country. What some states pay the legal defenders, the private legal defenders
who are representing criminal defendants, is
almost criminal itself. For some of them, it’s barely above minimum wage. All of this is troubling,
deeply troubling for me. It’s one of the reasons when I was a lower court judge on the circuit court in New York that I took over the Criminal Justice Act
committee of the court, which was for the volunteer lawyers that worked for the
court system, and tried to improve their education and tried to improve their access to us, the Court, and worked with them to
better their conditions. But that’s an issue that we still have to do a lot with as a society. We’re a nation that
touts our family values, but we’re the only nation who does that, unlike European and other
countries in the world for whom family values are
not constitutional issues, who have things like child custody, but no rights to attorneys. Those are contradictions in term that we, as a society, have to
continue thinking about and working on remedying. We still have a lot to do. (applause) – I’m never washing my hand ever again. Thank you. – You’re welcome. Thank you. – [Dani] Hi, Justice Sotomayor – Hello.
– [Dani] My name is Dani. I’m also a 2L at Boalt. – Melissa, does your 2L
the only ones interested? (laughter) – [Dani] Earlier you
spoke about how frequently you dissent in cases, so
my question is does it ever give you pause when you realize that you’ll be a lone dissenter in a case? Has that ever changed
your position in any way? – Absolutely, and absolutely
yes to both questions. It gives me pause every time I do it. Most often, the pause comes in statutory cases. In large measure because
in statutory cases, there’s a sense of security that if I get it wrong, or the Court gets it wrong, Congress can always come and fix it. It’s actually the situations in which the justices most often compromise because the feeling, all
of us have that feeling, which is okay, on a statute, reasonable people are disagreeing. What the world needs is an answer. From there, having an
answer, Congress can fix it, and people can work on
how to get around it, if they need to, in their relationships. On constitutional
questions, it becomes harder to do that because there,
we’re the final arbiter. When we say the Constitution
prohibits something or permits it, that answer lasts a very long time. If we get it wrong, getting it right is very, very hard. There, there is less likelihood of changing a dissent. The one thing I can say, in my 25 years as a judge, as of next
October, is I have never laid my head down at night regretting a decision I made. (applause) That doesn’t mean that I haven’t thought that I’ve gotten certain things wrong, ’cause with experience, you learn. With experience, you think, maybe I should decide this differently now. But the one thing that
guides me in my life as a judge and as a human being is don’t ever do something
that you will regret, that you will have a sense
that it was injust or wrong. For me, when I dissent,
it’s because I think that the other guy’s got it wrong. In those moments, and no justice actually dissents alone that frequently. If you look at our statistics, a justice dissenting by themselves, it happens maybe once a year, some years not at all. Justices do dissent, two or three people joining them, or sometimes one other. But if your arguments can’t convince even one other person,
(laughter) you better stop and question yourself. (laughter) But I’ve done it a couple of times, so sometimes I think I just couldn’t do it, but I’ve done what I thought was the right thing to do. (applause) – [Stephen] Hi, Justice Sotomayor. – Thank you for being here. – [Stephen] My name’s Stephen. I’m a 1L (laughter) who found time to be here today. – Hello. I’m so glad. (laughter) – [Stephen] My question
for you is do you ever feel pressure at times to put aside your life experiences when deciding a case in order to remain impartial? If so, what’s your thought on that? – I’m gonna give you one example. When I was a district court judge, I had a situation in
which, it was a trial. Not a large value trial, in terms of the recovery. It was a car accident. Why was a car accident in federal court? ‘Cause it was diversity. A citizen of New York versus a citizen of New Jersey, I think it was. (laughter) One of the lawyers was
a more senior aged man. I would guess his age was in his 80s. He trembled. I was having an emotional reaction to him. I knew that I was forgiving him for actions he shouldn’t have been doing as a lawyer. I actually broke for lunch early because I was trying to figure
out what was making me so nice to him. (laughter) I went and I sat down at lunch, and I started to ruminate. All of a sudden, I realized, looks exactly like my grandfather. My grandfather had Parkinson’s, so through most of my childhood, my grandfather always had a tremor. That made me realize that my feelings of wanting to protect him and be nice, super nice to him, were borne from that emotional reaction. Once I could identify
where it was coming from, I went back into the courtroom. It wasn’t that I was
harsh on him after that, but I sat back and realized that I had to be fair to the other lawyer. The other lawyer was trying to protect his client, and the other
lawyer had a job to do. I shouldn’t be bending over backwards for one side over the other. I was able to right myself to a place where I thought I was being impartial. The moral of that lesson, and the speech I wrote in, or gave here at Berkeley in 2001 reflects this, (laughs) there’s a lot of unconscious things
that affect us as judges. We’re human beings. We’re no different than anyone sitting in this room. We all have reactions
to things that are borne from our life experiences. We respond to things in particular ways because of something good or something bad that happened to us in our life. You have to always, as a judge, be aware of that subconscious. Be conscious of your own subconscious. Be conscious of those
things that you think are making you predisposed
to one side or another. You have to sit back and look at it and take control of it. The answer is obviously yes. There are moments. Some people will say, and have said, that I rule a lot in favor
of criminal defendants. Maybe in relationship to
some of my colleagues, I might, but they forget all of the hundreds and dozens of cases where I rule for the prosection. It’s not a bias for or
against one side or another, but you do have to be conscious of what creates bias. (applause) – [Shree] Good afternoon, Justice. I’m Shree Moybasas from the LLM program at Berkeley Law. (applause) I would like to ask you
a very simple question. I’m currently also
working at a public school with the mock trial program. What would be the kind of message that you would like to send to these children? (sighs) – There’s always, always, but always hope. The day you give up on hope is the day you give up on living. All of us, no matter where we come from, the circumstances that we live in, the hardships that we’re enduring, they can be overcome if
you believe in yourself. Tell your public school kids money doesn’t buy happiness. It can make life a
little easier, (laughter) but the only thing that can buy success in your life is your believing that there is hope. Hi. I’m going back here. (applause) Hi, hi. – [Katie] Hello, Justice. My name is Katie Lee. I am a first year law
student here at Boalts. I have a question for you. (laughs) Through the course of
a lengthy legal career filled with unexpected twists and turns, what do you think is the best way to pursue fulfillment on a personal and professional level,
either as an attorney or as a judge? – Well, first, as a person ’cause I think I would give this advice to anybody, lawyer, judge, doctor, engineer, anything, teacher,
anyone you wanna be. I think you have to go through life doing two things. One is sort of being
realistic about yourself. We’re not all made equal. We don’t all have the same talents or the same abilities. You have to be able to look at yourself and say what are my strengths and what are my weaknesses because it’s wonderful to aspire to be something, but if ya don’t have a whole lotta talent in being a baseball player, don’t aspire to be a superstar. (laughter) You’re gonna be disappointed. But the same thing is true of a lot of different things. People want to do something,
but they’re not able to look within themselves and say, is that something that
I can really enjoy doing and do in a interesting
and fulfilling way? If you can do that, you can become me. You can say, when I was
looking at occupations, this is how I went about it. When I was in college, I sat down one day and I started making a list
of all the occupations, trying to think of is
law the right one for me. I got to about the third page of double-column listing. (laughter) This is before the
internet, guys. (laughter) I realized this could go on endlessly. This is not an approach
that’s gonna be helpful. I started by asking
myself, what don’t I like? The first thing that came to my mind was I don’t like hospitals. (laughter) Why? I was a juvenile diabetic. I had spent every month of my life, conscious life, I was diagnosed at seven, going to a clinic at a local hospital. My mother worked at a hospital. I had worked in the hospital. I realized, unlike some other people who are stricken with a condition, they figure out they wanna find the cure, I wanted to run away. I just didn’t want to be
in a medical profession. That eliminated a lotta jobs
on that list. (laughter) Then I sat down and I
said to myself (laughs) you can’t sing, dance or draw. (laughter) I can’t. They don’t even let me
sing Happy Birthday. (laughter) No matter what I do, no
matter how much I try, I don’t hear music well. I can’t follow a beat to save my life. I can’t draw anything but a cat, and the only reason I can draw the cat is because all it took was two circles. (laughter) I sat back and said I’d be useless in a setting that required those kinds of creative skills
because I don’t have them. You can’t teach yourself something if you don’t have a foundation
you can learn from. Then I started to think about the things that I was good at, public speaking, talking to people and trying to help them with their problems. How are you? I realized, in the end, that what law did was try to help people. Help people in their relationships when their relationships weren’t working, or when they had relationships they want to make work better. That’s what lawyers do. You have a dispute with
someone, you go to court. An institution has a problem with you or you with the institution,
you go to court. You’re looking for an
answer for that problem. Many lawyers never end up in court. What do they do? They try to help people
in their relationships with one another. They help you plan your
businesses together. They help employees and employers regulate their relationships
with one another. That’s what law is, helping people in their relationships. That’s what I wanted to do. I found my passion. I found what made me happy. My mother didn’t want me to be a lawyer. She wanted me to be a
journalist. (laughter) She thought journalists
were more important. She may be right, (laughter) but that’s not what I wanted to do. I think you find happiness and success when you can marry your
talents to your passion, when you can find
whatever your talents are, whatever your strengths are, the things that make you happy, and find work that lets you do that. The hardest thing, and
every parent in this room is gonna hate me for saying it, (laughter) so Melissa, close Eleanor’s
ears, okay? (laughter) Don’t become what your parents want you to become. (laughter) Don’t become (applause) what your friends think is cool. Don’t judge what you want to become by other people. Judge what you wanna
become by your insides, about what makes you feel good. If you can do that, you’ll be a success at anything you undertake. Sometimes the things you wanna be won’t make ya any money, and
you may have to find a way to survive, but it is, I think, much, much more valuable to find something that fulfills you as a person, and do that. Good luck in finding that for yourself. (cheers and applause) Thank you, thank you, thank you. – Hi, Justice. – Brad, would you grab that? Thank you. Whoever gave me this, that’s fine. He’ll show it to me later. Hi. Hello, Travis. – I’m also in a 1L. My question is how do you see the role of judiciary changing in increase of polarization in America? (sighs) (laughter) – You know, I am sad that the public
has lost confidence in the judiciary. It’s shown in the surveys that are being done today. That so many people
believe we’re politicized is also saddening to me, in part because I happen to think that what has happened is not that the court
has become politicized, but that the society has. Politicians have taken
judicial philosophies, judicial approaches, to interpretation and to the work we do, and adopted those philosophies that they believe will lead them to the results they want. You hear elected officials talking about original intent, about
literalism in interpretation. You will hear them
talking about approaches that judges have been
going back and forth on for the last 50 years. They were different approaches on how to interpret laws and the Constitution that judges have gone back and forth on. Judges don’t have philosophies, however, that are so rigid that you can take that philosophy and say they apply it uniformly in every single case. My colleague Nino Scalia, who may be the father of original intent, every good professor in
this room could probably show 100 cases where he didn’t do that. (laughs) It’s very easy. It’s fun for them to do that. They write books about it. (laughter) That’s because it’s a more
nuanced process for us. We’re not looking for outcomes. We’re looking for an approach to our task that we think will give us a sense of not being arbitrary and capricious. No judge wants to play God. I certainly don’t. Look, I know that what I think is right is not what the person who lost a case before the Supreme Court thinks was right. That loser doesn’t think
the Court got it right. They don’t think that complete justice was done for them. They’re really not wrong about that. It wasn’t done for their needs. It was done because of
what judges think of as a right answer under the law. Whether the law is fair to any individual in any particular moment is subject to so many different variables. We can’t control for them. But that’s why I’m here, in the hopes that the audiences I
speak to will walk away with more respect for the judiciary, for a sense that the people who you have led to support in our
process of appointment, that we are trying our best to do our job in the way we think is fair and impartial. You may not like our
bottom line decisions, but if you know that we’re human beings who care deeply about what we’re doing and that we’re trying as hard as we can, that there will be continuing respect for the judiciary. Don’t give up hope on us. (applause) – [Melissa] Justice. Justice. – Melissa pulled me up here. (laughter) Blame her for ending it. (laughter) – [Melissa] They already do. (laughter) – Thank you.
– I love you. Thank you, thanks. There was a young woman
with her hand raised. Come up and at least I’ll shake your hand. Come on up. (cheers and applause) Thank you. Thank you for being here. That went so fast. – You were like Oprah. (laughter) – [Audience Member] Better. (laughter) – Better. Those are really serious questions, so I thought– – They were. – Maybe we would end with something a little lighter. I wanna propose that we play a game that I learned from
undergraduate students here. – Okay. – This game is called this or that. Do you all now it? (audience murmurs) The idea behind this game is that I will propose two things to you, and you will tell me which you prefer. If I said Melissa or her husband, Josh, you would say Josh. – Without question. – Obviously. (laughter) – She knows that, too. (laughter) – We’ve been down this road before. (laughter) For example, if I said salsa or polka, I imagine you would say. – Salsa. (cheers and applause) When I told them that I couldn’t dance, I can’t, I can’t keep a
beat, but I figured out how to get past that. I find a good dance partner,
and I take his beat. (laughter) I’ve learned how to follow. That has shocked the judges
of my court. (laughter) Sam Alito, when I said that at Yale, looked and said, “Oh, my God. “I’ve gotta play salsa music.” (laughter) – I actually think you’re underplaying your dance skills because I have seen you break it down. (laughter) – No, love, I’m not doing that. (laughter) – Fair, fair, fair. This or that. – Okay, go ahead. – Snow vacation or beach vacation? – You answer. – [Audience] Beach. – I’m Puerto Rican, right? (cheers and applause) – This one might be a little harder. My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor or Cases on Reproductive
Rights and Justice by Melissa Murray? (cheers and applause) – Melissa Murray’s book. (applause) – I think it’s this one. (laughter) Nobody ever ask me to
sign this one. (laughter) Why is that? Why is that? (laughter) This is the last one,
and then we’ll close out. – What is this? (audience groans) Oh. – That’s not even a question. Not a question. (applause and cheers) – One choice only. (cheers and applause) It’ll hang in my office with pride. – Excellent. I would just like to thank everyone who made today possible. That’s the law school and its amazing event services staff, the
vice chancellor’s office, who worked so well with us and has been such great partners, and, of course, the chancellor and Executive
Vice Provost Carol Christ for their leadership on this, as well. This has been such an amazing event, and we’re so delighted to
have welcomed you all here. I especially want to thank
our very special guest and honorary Golden
Bear, Justice Sotomayor. Thank you. (cheers and applause) Thank you.
– Thank you, sweetie. Thank you. (cheers and applause) Thank you. (cheers and applause) – [Audience Member] I love you. – [Sonia] Gracias, gracias,
thank you, thank you.

10 thoughts on “U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor at UC Berkeley

  • Danish Post author

    Sotomayor is inspiring!

  • LUZ Baez Post author

    Me ciento.Orgullosa Como Puertoriquena de que usted sea juesa federal .La amamos mucho.Dios la bendigas siempre.Le de una larga Vida ,para que pueda res planar los Latino en esta Ciudad.Love LUCY BAEZ.Bronx.NY.

  • Ayesha Karim Post author

    I don't like hospitals either and I have Schizophrenia. I am working on myself and my mental health. I am in therapy and I am taking the WRAP class at NAMI Mercer NJ. I admire Justice Sotomayor and I got her memoir My Beloved World. I am writing a memoir now. I hope to have a 200-250 page book by 2019.

  • ulpana Post author

    "awesome and inspiring as always" Not always. Not during her time on the Inferior Court Bench.

    As part of the decades long lurch to the political right wing in the Democratic Party that always lets the GOP lead in their tango at the Public Interest's expense, Ms. Sotomayor was crypto-corporatist Obama's way of doing Wall Street's work while looking like he was a community organizer from Main Street. The record of Judge Sotomayor (although she seems like someone I'd enjoy having a beer with like George W. Bush or Joe Biden) that made her so confirm-able by the obstructionist GOP Senate and House majorities along with the corporate-captured Neo-Liberal and Neo-CON BREITBART and FOX NEWS's broadcast anointing arms is her tendency to side with Big Business interests.

    Less in the rigid traditionalist mold of arch consservative Antonin Scalia than Obama's final rejected candidate Merrick Garland, but Judge Sotomayor's career decisions have been in step with Obama's less-appreciated world view that Wall Street is the legitimate power center of political policy for U.S. and the trans national trading world. If this talk is more than window dressing by the Bronx's contribution to the High Bench and a simpatico rhetorical bone thrown to the teeming masses of dispossessed (of a Social Contract) and displaced (what is the coast-to-coast Renters' & Homeless Family Emergencies declared by mayors of major and minor cities but a surrender to MARKET FORCES while siphoning more of our commonwealth to Daddy Warbucks ever vigilant against Islamist Terror Forces?) beneath Feudal Lords Trump-Icahn-Mercer-Mnuchin-Koch-Blankfein-Lauder:

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  • Shawn Hutcheons Post author

    What an inspiration Justice Sotomayer is. So glad that President Obama has made the supreme court a real reflection of the US population with his appointments.

  • kesava Post author

    The idea of going around the audience is genius. The admiration on people's faces to see a justice in flesh and blood is just priceless.

  • A P Post author

    Death to the entire human race , we no longer deserve to live ion this planet as we awe an abomination and curse upon this planet earth and all its creatures would be better of if the repulsive human race was wiped out completely before we end all life on the planet

  • A P Post author

    I pray to god she drops dead along with every scumbag in America that supports this treasonous cunt , god damm , may she and all her supporters burn in hell for eternity

  • plolee blowoteehow Post author

    just another wicked woman on her way to hell.

  • Jean Nieves Post author

    Dignified women 🎓🎓

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