April 11, 2016
For Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor staying connected to one’s community is crucial. This especially pertains to public service as a lawyer.
“I think of public service, as an obligation of every lawyer regardless of the work they are doing—private law firm, government job, etc.,” Justice Sotomayor said Friday during a wide-ranging talk at CUNY Law. “I think public service is your role as a citizen: What are you doing in your role in your community?,” she added. “That is an obligation of everyone.”
Justice Sotomayor spoke before a standing-room-only audience of CUNY Law students, faculty, staff and friends of the Sorensen Center for International Peace and Justice. The Sorensen Center hosted the Justice Sotomayor’s visit, which was a one-on-one conversation with Judge Rosemary Barkett, the Sorensen Center’s Scholar-in-Residence and a judge of the Iran-U.S. Claims Tribunal in The Hague.
Justice Sotomayor shares a story, and a laugh, with Judge Barkett at CUNY Law. (Photos by Melanie Einzig)
The event brought together two luminaries in the courts who share Latin American backgrounds and legal firsts. Justice Sotomayor is the first Latina on the U.S. Supreme Court and Judge Barkett, who was born and raised in Mexico to Syrian parents, was the first woman to serve the Florida Supreme Court, where she was selected by her peers to be Chief Justice.
“What a pairing we had today,” said Camille Massey, founding executive director of the Sorensen Center, “We were moved and energized by these phenomenal women who cherish community and set a stellar example for lawyers in training.”
Topics in the hour-long discussion included the importance of family and culture, storytelling and judicial writing styles, the value of writing concurring and dissenting opinions, and consideration of international law.
There is a difference between public service and public interest “because public service can serve roles that are not always in the public interest,” Justice Sotomayor told the audience.
Both judges also spoke of the importance of holding on to one’s cultural background.
“Everything I think of when it comes to tradition, when it comes to loving people, it comes to me from my family and the culture of my tradition,” Justice Sotomayor said. “That never leaves you. And it never should.”
Justice Sotomayor also reflected on her first year on the U.S. Supreme Court. “I got catapulted into a completely different world when I got on the Supreme Court,” she said.
“Every eye was on me,” she added. “Everyone was waiting to hear what my first question would be.”
Maria Amor (’17), at right, shows off her signed copy of Justice Sotomayor’s book along with classmate Alexa Rogers (’18).
She used writing her book, My Beloved World, to keep her grounded. “I really felt a need to ensure that I didn’t let myself change so much that I would lose who the essence of me was. In writing my story, that’s what I was holding on to: Where did I come from and how did I reach where I did.”
Justice Sotomayor and Judge Barkett also responded to students’ questions about the desired qualities in a law clerk, how best to combat racial prejudice in the judicial system and the differences between public service and working in the public interest.
Justice Sotomayor, Judge Barkett (far right), and Sorensen Center Executive Director Camille Massey (2nd from right) with 2015 and 2016 Sorensen Center fellows.
Shoshana Brown (‘17), a Sorensen Center Fellow, summed up many students’ thoughts about Justice Sotomayor’s visit to CUNY Law. “As a CUNY Law student, to have the opportunity to meet Justice Sotomayor is special, remarkable and a life-changing experience. Her passion and dedication to relate to law students, like myself, was inspiring and an experience I will take with me into my legal career.”