Sonia Sotomayor

Discussion at Stanford University – March 10, 2017

Sonia Sotomayor
March 10, 2017— Stanford, California
Print friendly

SOTOMAYOR: [applause] You touched my heart. Thank you.

M. ELIZABETH MAGILL, dean of Stanford Law School: As I think you can see from the evidence, we are excited to host you at Stanford University.

SOTOMAYOR: I am excited to be here. It's really a lovely place, and a wonderful university. You guys did a good job getting here. [laughter]

MAGILL: Before we get started let me go over the run of show, as it were. I will be in conversation with the justice for a couple of minutes — 15 to 20 minutes — and then the justice will go into the audience and take some questions that students and staff submitted in the lottery process. In the interest of time we selected a few for the justice to answer and then she will make her way through the audience herself and then come back on stage for a few minutes at the end. I will call on students and the justice will take their questions.

SOTOMAYOR: You will see men and women with little things in their ears. They're my marshals. They're here to protect me from myself. [laughter] They really don't like me going out into the audience, but I don't give them much choice. But we've reached a wonderful compromise, which is if no one jumps up unexpectedly they let me stay. If too many people jump up, then they take me off the floor. So cooperate with them and stay seated, okay? And don't scare them. [laughter] Thank you.

MAGILL: Well, Justice, the first question is this a room full of students. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about the role that education played in your life and maybe even the role of a particular class or set of classes or teachers who shaped your aspirations, your approach to your professional life, and if you could go back and give yourself advice when you were an undergraduate at Princeton or when you were a Yale law student, what advice would you give yourself?

SOTOMAYOR: Let me start with how I started to value education, because I really didn't at the beginning. Largely, in retrospect now, I understand, because I spoke Spanish before I spoke English. And it's not very clear to me that I actually understood what my teachers were saying the first four years of my education. In fact, for the longest time, it took almost until my adulthood to understand certain grammar school lessons that at the time, I really didn't get. So, all of you know the words that sound alike — where, were, there, their — it took me forever to figure out how to use them right. I had to go back and relearn them. But in fourth grade — and I described this in my book — my dad died, my home became very sad, and I used books to escape the sadness. I was sort of watching to see what mother was doing because I was worried about her and her unhappiness. She would sort of lock herself in her bedroom and I would sit outside with the door open, reading a book. And what I found was that books gave a rocket ship not only around the world but through the universe. I got to visit places through books that I never thought I would see. And it's an amazing experience now as I am growing more senior in years to have the resources to visit some of those places and see how they match up to what I read. Sometimes they match up pretty closely, sometimes they don't. It's always an adventure and a surprise and a wonderful opportunity to experience something new. But learning how to read and understanding the power of the word — words paint pictures. And that was one of the ways I learned how to be a good lawyer. Learning how to use words through witnesses to get them to paint the picture they have experienced. Read my book. There are passages in my book where you will see pictures in your head through the words I chose. And that happens if that's the way you read books, understanding that that's what they do for you. But in that experience of reading, I understood the power of education. Because it took you, not just to places you might never experience but to thoughts you might never otherwise have entertained. And that is the power of education. It opens you inside and out to experiences that do not come often innately, to thoughts you might not have, not because you lack intelligence or anything else, but because they don't come within ken of your experience. But by learning you open up the world and yourself to greater opportunity. Kids always ask me, did I dream about being a Supreme Court justice, and my answer is always, you can't dream about what you didn't know about. In the South Bronx, they didn't know about Supreme Court justices, okay? In my neighborhood, there were no lawyers, so who ever dreamt about the law? I learned about it mostly through television, about what "lawyering" was — not a very perfect way to learn. And certainly skewed somewhat in the wrong direction, okay? But I understood that by educating myself, I would be exposing myself to more knowledge about the opportunities in the world. And that leads me to what I would do differently today in college. Not so differently because I fell into it in part intuitively, but it's been reaffirmed to me that it's very valuable to helping me sort of succeed in life. I went into college and my first week before I signed up for classes, I had a bunch of classes in mind. I saw the titles of the classes and I felt a little overwhelmed. I didn't think I was smart enough to be at Princeton, and as a reflective/protective mechanism, I decided, you know, I better take as many introductory courses as I can. I don't want to really prove myself stupid. I was terribly afraid of that. So I took introductory courses in things that sounded interesting, but it did something more. They were things that I wanted to know about because I had read about them in newspapers, but didn't know what they meant. And I thought, well, I should take advantage. I hear about this guy Freud all the time. What does "Freudian slip" mean? So I took an introductory psychology course, and I not only learned about Freud, I learned about Pavlovian responses and all of this other jargon, none of which I've had to put in to any real use… [laughter] …but I have sort of understood its principles or the principles of those theories, and I have interwoven them into some of my presentations as a lawyer, in getting people to respond to me. And so those ways, information always helps you. I took my first year an introductory economics course, because I would hear about supply and demand or read about it in the newspapers, or hear about the debate on the news, and I just wanted to be informed. I did the same thing taking a course on religions of the world. How many of you read about, hear about all of the world wars that we have had over religious issues? How many of you really understand why, and what the tension is about? I took a philosophy course, sociology course. I eventually narrowed my interests into Latin American history. But it was after I had given myself a liberal arts education. I figured out first, how to be a generally informed citizen, before I tried to be a specialist in anything else. And that's the advice I would give all of you who are experiencing college. Take courses in areas that don't particularly interest you, but might make you a more knowledgeable person. Curious people go further. It is curiosity that leads you to experience new things, and might lead you to find an interest that you never imagined. And it's that curiosity that will keep you good company for others. People like being with people who can tell stories, right? And if you can tell interesting stories about interesting things, people will gravitate to you. The more you know, I think, the further you will get in life. My mother used to tell me that education is the key to anything you want in the world. I have found that to be true.

MAGILL: Thank you, Justice. [applause] You currently hold a pretty great job in law, Justice. You have previously held many other jobs in law. My question: you served particularly as a prosecutor and presided over trials, including some very complicated and prominent ones. Are there lessons you took from being a prosecutor or trial judge that still stay with you today and you think are still quite important?

SOTOMAYOR: Hmmm. Oh yeah, lots of them. [laughter] I'm known for asking a lot of questions about the records in the case. For the non-lawyers, the record are all the facts that happened below, the basis for which the judge in the trial court ruled and what happens on the intermediate appellate level — that is the record. Because we're the Supreme Court, and because generally we are asking a legal question — what does the law or the constitution mean in this setting — there are many judges on sort of the Supreme Court for whom the record is a secondary issue. It's purely the intellectual question that captivates them. In fact, I have been criticized by some for being too record-centered. But I think that that's very much a product of my extensive trial experience, and the fact that I was a trial judge. As a result of that experience, I believe that the law should be incrementally grown. We are known as a common-law system of justice, which means that we develop the law on the basis of the facts of the case. That case defines the parameter of whatever legal ruling the court makes. And the next case — which is always different, because people don't come to court if a particular issue has been decided, if the identical facts have been presented to the court, you are not going to come back with the same facts and make the same argument and lose again. You're going to try to find a twist on the facts that you believe gives you a basis for arguing why the court should do something different. I'm a common-law judge that tries to take each case as the facts present them. But that's not the way the Supreme Court works. The Supreme Court is really looking at the legal issue as a whole. It is not even, necessarily, looking at how to apply that legal issue to that set of particular facts. It's looking to announce a legal principle that can control the direction of the law in that area. That is a very different focus than the trial judge. The trial judge is trying to make a ruling for the parties before him or her. They are trying to do justice for those parties. The Supreme Court is trying to do justice for the development of law. It can have and always has consequences on people, and it's not that we forget those consequences, but we can and often do look at the situation before us and say "this might be a bad outcome for this particular party," but in the long run, the society is better served with a ruling that looks at the outcome long-term and where it leads us. And so for me, it's finding that balance that I work on, always informed by being a judge that dealt with people and understanding and never losing sight, that laws do affect people first and foremost. And that doesn't mean that because I think a particular outcome is bad that I will rule the other way. Some outcomes can be pretty horrible and I still have to rule for those outcomes because I believe that's what the law requires. But if I'm doing it, I don't want to do it blindly. I want to do it informed about what I am doing. And I have to ensure that I can always articulate a reason that I can live with, because at the end of each evening, I have to be able to lie down and live with myself. And so it is important I think, and that is what the trial judging taught me, to recognize the human cost of our decisions.

MAGILL: There have been many points in our history, the Civil War, the Civil Rights Movement, where we have been deeply divided as a people. I think we are in, again, a period of deep polarization as political scientists would say. You are part of a profession and a branch of government that believes deeply in reasoned disagreement and reasoned decision-making, even on matters where we have profoundly different views. So my question is, or two questions, I guess, focused on the students: what do you think is the key to persuading someone who is skeptical of your position to agree with you, and what would you tell students about how to engage productively in an era where we are deeply divided on matters of great significance?

SOTOMAYOR: I start, always, and I think it is where all of my colleagues start, which is with respect for the passion and good intentions of each other. I respect every one of my colleagues. I know that they are just as passionate as I am, about the law, constitution, and our system of government. We all work really, really, equally hard to get the answers right. We disagree — not infrequently — with how to do that, but it's not from a mal-intent, it is always from a good intent, of believing fiercely that the right answer is what the country needs. And if you can start from there, you accept the logical answer that, if it is a person of goodwill talking to you, there is something in what they are saying to you about their views, their needs, what is worrisome to them, that has justification. And if you can look at someone else's position and understand what is motivating them, what they are afraid of, what they think they need to give them comfort, to get them closer to your point of view. If you can address those things, you can persuade and move people. If you start from the proposition that what they fear, what they think, what they want to do has no legitimacy, then all you are doing is talking past each other and you will never come to the same table, and you will remain divided. Because if your attitude is, whatever you say is just plain stupid or wrong, how are they going to respond to you? You're stupid and wrong, and then you don't get much further. And so for me, that sense of engaging people, on their terms, on their needs, and moving those things closer to what I need has always been a successful way of negotiating. I give an example, and it's a very, very a small example. When I was a judge on the district court, I had a group of 11 plaintiffs who were people of color, who had been fired from a company that was downsizing. And as is regrettably all too common, they were the last in and the first out. So the company was firing on seniority, and all of the people that that affected were the people of color because they had been the last one hired in those companies. They sued, claiming race discrimination in the decision that was made and its consequences. And the parties were before me, and I encouraged the company president and human resources director to come to court, I asked the 11 plaintiffs to come into court, so we can have a settlement conference. They remained very far divided. At one point, I looked at them and said, you know, I think each of you are immobile because you don't really understand each other's perspective. You, Mr. President: think about what you would feel like if you've spent a large percentage of your working career being a loyal employee to your company, doing everything the company wanted, doing it as right as you humanly could, giving them your sense of commitment and passion for the products that the company makes, and for the family that you build in the company, and all of a sudden, you wake up one morning, and the company president says to you, "Thanks, Joe. Goodbye, because I can't afford you anymore." There is a deep, deep sense of loss in that, like you've spent all of those years working for a company who values you so little. It demeans you, it gives you a sense of loss because in every company that builds the family, when you lose that family, the loss is like death. I said, so, imagine how they are feeling. You can tell them it was business necessity, but it doesn't do anything for their emotional state. It is a loss for them. And you, employees, understand something. I understand that, and maybe a jury will understand it, but legally, they can do what they did unless it was motivated by race. If there is true economic necessity, a jury may or may not find in your favor. And if they don't find in your favor, your sense of loss might continue to be very great. And so both of you have needs. They think their need is real. They are having economic difficulties. Your sense of loss is real. You both have risks in the courtroom. Go out and figure out how you value each other's perspective. When this case had come to me, it was about three years old. That's why they gave it to me, because I was a new judge, okay, and it was an old case. They went out and an hour later they settled. Now, I didn't say anything that their lawyers didn't say, but sometimes having a non-lawyer look at both sides and touch each other's buttons makes a difference. But all I did was try to articulate what each side was thinking. And people can hear, but that is generally my advice to people. Don't start by thinking the other side has no basis for their feelings. There is always a reason for people's feelings. There is always something that is affecting them. If you can spend the time figuring out what that is, you can use that information to come to a fairer answer.

MAGILL: Let's take some questions from the students.

SOTOMAYOR: I would love to. I am coming down, but stay seated, okay? I was told to start this way. I'm only going to go up two-thirds of the way, because you guys can't see me and I'm sorry to do that to you. The reason I come down into the audience is, they put me all the way back there. The people in the back really don't get a chance to see what I look like. [laughter] and they don't feel like they are engaged in what I'm saying. I think, being among you, engages you more, and lets people who had the misfortune of coming in late see me, too, okay? [laughter] All right, I'm coming down. Liz, you can ask the question and I can actually multitask and listen and get there at the same time.

MAGILL: In the interest of time, I'm going to call on the student and give your affiliation. Not everyone needs to say thank you for being here for Justice Sotomayor because we are all so happy that she's here, and then we'll get through more of the questions. The first question is from a first-year law student.


STUDENT: Hi. My question is, what were your greatest fears and hopes upon joining the Supreme Court and have any of them been realized, thus far?

SOTOMAYOR: My biggest fear is the one I've struggled with my entire life and every single new experience I've ever had: would I be good enough, you know? I tell people, if you have a new experience and you're not a little scared, you're conceited. [laughter] And if you're conceited [applause] you are likely to get something really wrong, all right? When I was a prosecutor, my boss one day told a story — my supervisor, not my big boss — told the story of a woman D.A. who came in and started to cry. He looked at her and said, "Please, be like a man. Go into the bathroom and throw up instead." [laughter] I said, "What if you do both?" [laughter] And we talked about that a bit and said, you know, that can be a gender difference. Men are taught culturally to throw up and women are not taught not to cry, okay? Every situation that I have been in — it's not the imposter syndrome, they've got a name for it, but it is not the imposter syndrome, because the true imposter syndrome person does it and fail. I don't try to fail. I just sort of live with that insecurity that I don't know if I will be good enough. The lesson that I have tried to learn in life, and I haven't actually gotten there yet, is that there is no one definition of success, and that's the problem. We sort of use other people's measures of success, and sometimes it's money, sometimes it is the level of prestige, sometimes it's whatever measure people think of importance. But the reality is, if you spend your time measuring success, yourself, by your own goal, what is it that I want to do? Can I take each day and grow each day one step at a time? Can I learn something new each day? Can I better my skill set? If I approach what I am doing in that way, I give myself a cushion against my own disappointment. It's a very important cushion, because I watch people who throw themselves at something bigger than they are. They fail, and then they give up. I take each failure as an opportunity to say, okay, let me get up and take a smaller step. Let me back up and figure out what I was doing wrong and what I need to fix, and move either towards the wall to break it down or around the wall to get around it, and so maybe that wall will have to stay there, but maybe I can do something in a slightly different direction. So that is what I did at the Supreme Court. I went in very, very fearful. My first three years, I was working crazy hours. I worked almost seven days a week, and it was really long, long days. I read everything I could before every single case. I read every old Supreme Court decision. I read every brief that came into the office, word for word. I read books on justices and what made them good justices. I did everything possible to inform myself and figure this job out. After three years, I am still learning. I can't tell you that I am a perfect justice, far from it. I don't think there is such a thing. One of my colleague's mentors, John Paul Stevens, who retired when he was 90 years old, one day said to me when I was expressing my doubts, said, "Sonia, nobody is born a justice. You are born a person, and you learn and grow into everything you do." So, have I gotten there? No. I am working at getting there. Every day in this job I think about what I do, I reflect on what I am doing. Every time I have a discussion with my colleagues and something doesn't go the way I want it to, I go back and rethink it and figure out what I did wrong, and then I try a different approach the next time. And if I draft something that people don't like and I have to make changes, I think about what they are telling me and what it was I did and I go back and try to avoid that next time. It's not a perfect process, learning. It's an incremental process of trying to better yourself step by step, inch by inch. And for me, it's really worked, and I expect it will continue working as a justice. As I've found more and more of my own voice, my own sense of what's important to me…. You know, we get cases from around the country. There are 8,500 cases that come through the court in petitions for certiorari — certiorari is review of a decision below—so we get 8,500 of those petitions. We can only hear — well, we're hearing too few, people criticize us for that — we're only hearing about 60 to 70 a year. We could probably hear more. But even if we heard more, it's not going to be anywhere close to those 8,500 cases. And so we have to make judgments about what's important for the court to hear, and I have a voice in that. And so for me, I have at least succeeded in achieving a respect for the fact that my voice is my voice. It's different than my colleagues, but that it's okay. We agree on a lot of things, some things we disagree on, and sometimes you just say things because they need to be said. And I am getting more comfortable understanding that. Thank you. Good luck to you. [applause]

MAGILL: Justice?

SOTOMAYOR: Hello. Where is that young woman? Hold on one second. Come on. [laughter] [poses for photo with audience member] Look at Linda. [applause]

MAGILL: The second question, Justice, is from [student name], who is a second-year graduate student in the Department of Pathology at the medical school.

SOTOMAYOR: Wonderful.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Thank you. So my question to you is, how do you leverage growing up in lower income neighborhoods in New York City with going to elite institutions to complete your education, and how did you adjust to the culture shock of realizing that you gained privilege you didn't have while growing up? [poses for photo with Sotomayor] [laughter, applause]

SOTOMAYOR: You know something, I don't know that you can ever leverage poverty. [laughter] Being poor is being poor, okay? And you can try to make it attractive. I did a fairly good job in my book, okay? [laughter] No, no, no. And part of the purpose of my book, a real big purpose of my book, was to ensure that people who viewed my culture and my upbringing as completely negative -- you know, when you think of places like projects or Fort Apache, which is where I grew up and where my family lived growing up, it was the most crime-ridden neighborhood in the entire United States at the time, okay? And there is a movie about it. If any of you are interested, go rent the movie, and you will see how unattractive the people there were portrayed. And part of the focus of my book was in showing people the human side of my life, for them to feel the fact that I came from a family just like theirs, to show them the needs, and love, and aspirations of the people who live in those really bad neighborhoods. We're not all corrupt. We're not all bad people. We have challenges, and we have to learn how to overcome them, but we are not bad human beings. And that's a vision that most people don't have of my neighborhoods.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Sonya, I love you. I am not a student, but I love you.

SOTOMAYOR: Thank you. So, it was a complete and utter culture shock going to Princeton University. The cricket outside my window the first week drove me crazy. [laughter] I actually thought it was inside the room and took it apart. [laughter] And it was my then-boyfriend, future husband, who came to visit me and I told him I was looking for the cricket, and he said, he started to laugh, and said it is on the branch outside your window. [laughter] Those were the small things. The big things were sitting next to the southern woman who sat down to tell me about the six generations of her family who had attended Princeton. I was the first one to go to college and actually stay in college in my family in the United States. It was hearing kids talking about summer and midterm vacations in places I had only heard of and never imagined visiting. It was learning things that one would have assumed a kid from a fairly decent Catholic school system in New York would have known about – Alice in Wonderland. But you forget that my parents were Puerto Rican, and back then Alice in Wonderland wasn't translated, so it wasn't a book that my parents had given me as a child. And you would think -- I should have known about Alice in Wonderland, but I didn't. So I had to read Alice in Wonderland. And that is what we have to do when we come from a different culture. We can't denigrate the other culture. We can't denigrate our own culture. I take a great deal of pride in the Latina I am. [cheers and applause] Very very much so. And we have some of the most extraordinary authors, artists, musicians, people of knowledge that the world possesses, but so does America. And that I can share, learn, and be in both cultures enriches me, and I hope I am making contributions that enriches the other culture as well. That's how we do it — retaining and maintaining pride in who we are and what we give, and forcing others to see us and understand that we, too, can give of equal value — and that's how I leverage. I never let anybody forget that if they think I'm smart, it is not because of affirmative action. [applause]

MAGILL: Justice, we're getting close to the end of our time. [laughter]

SOTOMAYOR: Oh no, we can go a little more. [laughter, applause]

MAGILL: All right. [laughter and applause]

SOTOMAYOR: The president is here. He has a lot of power over the theater, I'm sure. I'm going to go to the other side. So you guys on top, wait. I'm coming down the other way. Hello. [laughter]

MAGILL: Well, the third…

SOTOMAYOR: Okay, go ahead.

MAGILL: The third question comes from [student name], who is a second-year law student. Right here.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Hi. As a leader of the Native American law students association here at Stanford, it is an honor to get to meet you as the best advocate for Native American rights on the Supreme Court. And…yes, thank you. [applause] It seems a large part of your insight stems from having visited Indian reservations as well as your shared expense is a woman of color from a minority background, so in your opinion how does this introduction to diverse cultures and lived realities help better inform the law? How should we future lawyers seek to educate ourselves on these diverse issues?

SOTOMAYOR: You know something…. I am a person of color and I thought I knew a lot about different cultures. When I got to the Supreme Court, I have a Native American friend whom I adore, he was a law school classmate, and he came to me and said, "You know, Sonia, it's been eons since a justice visited any of the tribes." And it happened to be Sandra Day O'Connor and Steve Breyer, and they had gone on a tour of some tribal courts, and that had been the only justices who had ever interacted directly with Native American tribes. And he said, they feel like they are marginalized in our culture, and it would be nice if a justice showed some interest in them. And so I said, okay, I'll go. And as with anybody who asks me to do something, I make them work, too. [laughter] It's really key to success in life. The dean will tell you that. [laughter] She invited me to the law school, and look at everything she's had to do. [laughter] At any rate, he invited me to the pueblos, I went. Actually, he invited me to the tribes generally, but we decided on the pueblos because a lot of the tribes throughout American history had been relocated, and the pueblos are most of the only indigenous populations in the United States. And they educated me. I got lots of books. I had conferences with them and they started to explain more about their culture to me. It's like anything that we do in life. You don't have any natural affiliation with anyone. You don't have any natural knowledge of anyone else life. You have to take the time to learn/ And that is all I did, was take the time to learn. I don't see myself as an advocate of anyone on the court. I see myself as an advocate of doing justice and of getting people involved and inspired to do more to build up our community. But my interest is in all people, because we all have value. And to me, the Native American connection to the land and to their home was deeply, deeply meaningful. And it moved me, as it would move I think most people in this audience, because it is a spiritual response that's rich and empowering. We could learn a lot from paying more attention to our Native American brothers and sisters, because they have interacted within their own lands and within their own communities in a way most of us have lost touch with. And so for me, that is something that everyone should do, but particularly lawyers because we are representing everyone. We are asked to intercede in every problem that society has. We are asked to find solutions. We are asked to help people find their solutions, and you can only do that as with what I started with in the beginning, by taking the time to understand them first. So — don't give up. There's plenty of people out there trying to do what you are doing. Come, take your picture. [applause]

SOTOMAYOR: Should I go to the other side?

MAGILL: Justice, you asked me to ask you to go to the other side.


MAGILL: And we are officially three minutes away of from what is supposed to be the ending point; the justice has said she'd stay a few more minutes, but maybe we can have a really robust run of applause at the end, rather than in the interim which would maybe get some more student questions? [laughter] So [student name]….

SOTOMAYOR: I could be shorter, but I have fun talking. [laughter]

MAGILL: [student name] is the next question, who is a third-year law student.

SOTOMAYOR: Go ahead.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: So, in the past you've alluded to the importance of empathy in the judicial role, but how do you deal with the fact that your incredible success has given you a perspective that's completely different from that of many people with whom you like to empathize? And relatedly, I wonder if you would share a little bit about your own experience in bridging that gap with people who are close to you, but may not have gone to Princeton or Yale?

SOTOMAYOR: That's most people. [laughter] And it's always a problem. I have often talked about living in two worlds. I'm a member of a lot of different worlds, but I don't feel at home completely, completely at home in any of them. You know, I've told the story of when I was a prosecutor going to a witness' home in the projects and as I was sitting in the chair there was a cockroach crawling up the side of a lamp and it freaked me out so much I had to sort of end the interview and leave real quick. I grew up with rodents, you know. They shouldn't have freaked me out. But seven years in Princeton and at Yale, and resources to take myself out of that kind of community had changed me. And to be frank with you, I might be able to survive in that environment, but I choose not to. And I'm, you know, I wish I could take them out of that environment. I don't have the driving need to want to be there myself. So there is a difference that I can't get over. So, how do I stay connected? It's true for everyone involved in a public job, whether it's on the courts where you're separated from society because you can't involve yourself in political issues and shouldn't, or you are a politician who is segregated from the community in many ways, okay? How many of you have forgotten President Bush going to the supermarket and being surprised by the scanner? [laughter] All right? You know, I felt badly for him. [laughter] Because I understood. He doesn't go to supermarkets. Neither does any other president. The point is that the only way that you can try to stay connected is to reach out and go back to those communities and be in those communities as much as you can. And that is what I try to do. I visit community centers, schools, public and private, in all kinds of neighborhoods, rich and poor. I don't limit myself. I go to mental health medical facilities. I try to reach out to as a diverse a group of people and experiences as I humanly can. Now, today I spent the day really talking with but at you. You know, having a conversation with 2000 people is nearly impossible, okay. But in a lot of these settings, in listening to what's moving people, what they're doing, what the issues are that concern them, I learn. And it is the only way that anyone who has moved from their home environment can stay connected. Now, I have often been asked what I think my greatest accomplishment in life has been, and I think it's I have not traveled my road to success alone. My family has been beside me every step of the way. Every member of my family has visited every institution I've inhabited — my mother, my cousins, my grandmother when she was still alive had visited my grammar schools, my high schools, my colleges, my law schools. They all came to my induction at the White House. Not the induction but the ceremony at the White House, and the inductions at the court. And I found my aunt in the White House bathroom stuffing her pocketbook with the White House-stamped napkins. [laughter and applause] and the cardboard coffee cups. I looked at her and I said, "Tia." She looked at me and said, "Sonia, they are not going to notice." And I walked away shaking my head. But I learned a lesson last year. I was at the White House Christmas party, and at the end — it was two years ago, not last year — and at the end of his speech, the president, after he welcomed everybody to the party, said, "Now go out and have a good time. Leave the silverware, but take the napkins." [laughter] We know everybody does." [laughter] So, moral of that lesson? I learned that my family is no different than everybody else. [laughter] And that's how we stay connected. I encourage students at every institution and sometimes if you have moved far from…if you come from the East Coast to the West Coast or vice versa to go to school, it's going to be harder for your family to come here, but you have resources today that I didn't have when I was in school. You have skyping. And there is nothing wrong with walking around and having your friends do skype with your parents and introduce them through skyping. There is nothing wrong in talking to your parents about what you experience. Now sometimes their reactions may not be what you want, and that's okay, too. Because you know, sometimes they look at you and say, "Don't be silly," when you don't feel silly because you feel badly, you know? But even just the act of including them, I have always found that over time they will come back to it and engage with you. I know that sometimes I say things to my mother about something that's hurt me and she doesn't quite know how to respond and she doesn't respond very well and then a month later, she'll say something that made me know that she heard me. And so, that's the only way I have found to stay connected. You are them. They are you. Even if you try, you can never get rid of them forever. [laughter] Thank you. [applause] My sugars are low, so I'm going to have one of these. So why don't you ask the next question, I'll take a picture, and maybe I can…

MAGILL: Okay, then one more question, is that what you are saying?

SOTOMAYOR: No, no, I'm saying…what I said. [laughter]

MAGILL: Okay. Well, given what I've been told about your time, maybe one more question, Justice..

SOTOMAYOR: No, you can give me... [laughter]

MAGILL: A law dean will not contradict a Supreme Court justice, I promise you. [student name] is the next question. But she needs a microphone, I think.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: As a Latina, could you speak to any personal experiences you've had with discrimination, whether socially, academically, or professionally?

SOTOMAYOR: Okay. My book's full of them. [laughter] Look, discrimination comes in many, many different forms and for many, many different reasons. Sometimes it's intentional, sometimes it's not. Sometimes it's thoughtlessly, and other times it's purposefully. And you're going to find it in very different ways, some subtle, some not-so-subtle, okay? So I tell people about the security officer in the courthouse, who as I was parking my car one day, said to me, "Honey, put it over there." Now I can assure you that in his years as a security officer in our building he never called a male judge honey, okay? I could put my last dollar on that, all right? [laughter] I stopped. I thought to myself, what do I do about this? I can go call his supervisor and it's going to get him in trouble, but I thought about why he did it, and I realized that I'm a very friendly person. I say hello to people. I shake their hands. [laughter] I hug them. You know? He felt comfortable with me. He did it unthinkingly. And if I reported him and made it a big deal, it would be a bigger deal than it warranted. So what did I do? I thought quickly and I looked at him and I said, "You know — I know you meant it out of affection for me and liking me, but you know, if somebody hears that, you calling me honey, they're going to think the worst thing possible. So why don't we stick to judge?" [laughter] It worked, okay? I hope he wasn't too embarrassed. I don't think he was. And we stayed friends. I was in a meeting as a young lawyer in private practice. There were 10 men and one woman, me. At the early parts of my career that was true a lot, less true with time. And one of the men in the room looked at me and said, "Can you get us coffee?" And I sat there, pondering, what do I do? And thankfully, my supervisor, a deep, deep friend, turned around and sent to the person, "No, she's a lawyer. I will call and order coffee." And he got up and called and ordered. Lesson number one, you don't always have to be the person who does something about it. And people of goodwill have an obligation in those situations to do something about things that are done wrong. Number three. I was a law student. One of my dearest friends invited me to a law firm dinner. They were recruiting at the law school, and he invited a bunch of his friends, like they had directed him to do, and I sat down and he went around the table, introducing all of us and telling the partner about our background. He introduced me as Sonia Sotomayor, a graduate of Princeton who had come from the South Bronx and was doing whatever I was doing at the time. And everybody got introduced in the partner sitting across from he looks at me and said, "Did you get into Yale because of affirmative action?" He hadn't seen my resume yet. [laughter] And I looked at him and I said, "It might have helped, but I also think graduating summa cum laude Phi Beta Kappa of Princeton with its highest academic honor had a little bit to do with it, too." [applause] And we spent a few minutes talking about that, about the positives and the negatives of affirmative action. And I left and I went and I talked to some of my friends. And after talking to them, I filed a complaint. Why? I'm not a bomb thrower. Never was, never have been. I talk about being the person that would use the protest outside to my advantage to negotiate with the schools I was a part of. And my negotiations were usually more successful because of the kids who are willing to protest, okay? But I realized he had done that to me and that others probably had done it to a lot of people of color in interviews. And that wasn't the place to have that conversation. It is a very critical societal issue, but an interview is not the place that you talk about that and you certainly don't talk about it if you look at someone's resume and you don't think they are qualified. Don't hire them. If you think they are qualified, then don't assume they are not. And so, for me, making a public statement about that situation was necessary. And I was the best person to do it because I had the credentials that showed my qualifications. And so, yes, and even to this day, being nominated to the Supreme Court, there were people who said I wasn't smart enough, I wasn't good enough, I would never author a decision that would be meaningful or noteworthy. One of the people who said that has since publicly apologized, pointing to certain decisions he thinks proved him wrong. But my point is that discrimination will always exist, and it will exist in so many different ways and so many different forms and there's no one answer to what you do in any particular situation. You use your judgment. Do something, but try to figure out what's appropriate for that situation and what are the reasons you are doing it. The one reason it should never be, that you believe that what they say to you is meaningful. It tells you nothing about you. It tells me a lot about them, okay? [applause] And that is how I have come to live and learn with the discrimination that I felt and continue to feel. I wish I could make your life easier by saying you won't face it. You will. But you will be the stronger for it. You will.

MAGILL: Justice.

SOTOMAYOR: All right, one more question.

MAGILL: Let me be clear — you're in charge. [laughter] All right — one more question.


MAGILL: I would love to lure you back on stage and give you a small gift and give you a proper thank you.

SOTOMAYOR: All right. MAGILL: One more question.

SOTOMAYOR: Thank you. I will. I'll come down this way. So who is the last question?

MAGILL: [student name], from the School of Medicine.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: I'd like to know what aspects of your earlier career training you think most prepared you for your service as a Supreme Court justice.

SOTOMAYOR: Hmm. Nothing and everything. Nothing in particular prepares you for a job as big as this one. I was a judge for 17 years. This kind of judging is different. You know, a lot of what a judge does on a trial court, on the appellate court, outside the Supreme Court, is a little bit more routine. It's directly controlled by precedent. You have easier answers because you are just extrapolating from what was or has been. When you are on the Supreme Court…. We only take cases when there is a circuit split. That means there are 13 circuits in the United States. The states are divided among them, and they are disagreeing on the answer to a legal question, and it's usually a disagreement that is deeper than a one-to-one, because we let perk a little while to see what the courts are saying. And in fact, in some of those perks, the issues start to narrow, what really is important in this legal question. But because there is a split, you already know that reasonable judges across the country have found it hard to answer the question. They are not agreeing. And so, this is the hardest judging job there is because every single case we get is hard. You can read in our opinions, and we are very good lawyers, and when we write our opinions, you wonder why that stupid judge below got it wrong. [laughter] That's what most people think, okay? But it's not true. They weren't stupid. There is always a nub of a question that makes the issues before the Supreme Court hard. So, if nothing in particular prepares you for this, what does, in some way or other? I think having varied life experiences, both as a lawyer and for me, as a judge. Having been a prosecutor, having done commercial litigation, having been a trial judge, a circuit court judge. All of those experiences gave me lessons about life, the law, its impact on people, how people interact with the law. All of that is what helped me become a justice. And you know, people will ask me, what are you? How does it feel to be a Latina justice? And I go, I am not just a Latina justice. That doesn't define who Sonia is. Sonia is made up of countless life experiences, and some that you won't expect, you know? I represented Ferrari and Fendi — all right? Most of you would not think they are economically challenged, okay? [laughter] I had a great time doing it. I like fast cars. [laughter] But my point is that who I am is more than one experience. I am my own meld of who I have become. You will become your own meld of who you are from those experiences that you pursue. And in the end, what prepares you for anything is taking the opportunity every single day to do what I do at the end of my night. I lay back and I ask myself two questions before I fall asleep. What did I learn new today? And if I haven't, I wake up, because I frustrate myself, and I look at one of the many articles that are on my Kindle list that I haven't read. And the second question is, what act of giving did I do today? And if I haven't, because there are days that I go into the office and I sit at my chair and all I'm doing is staring at the computer and drafting or reading briefs or doing something else and it's 11:00 at night and I go home, grab something to eat and I lay down and realize I haven't interacted with anybody, except the machine. And I get up, and I go send an email to someone I know who I love who is sick. Or I reach out to someone who wrote to me to do something and I say yes because I feel guilty. [laughter] Guilt is a good motivator, by the way, to do the right thing. [laughter] And I think that that's really how…the only way I know how to live life in a meaningful way. And to become who you are and to do the work you want to do is to be open enough to both want to learn and to give at the same time. So do both and you'll be prepared to be a justice, okay? [applause]

MAGILL: That's it. that's it right there. [applause]

SOTOMAYOR: All right, Mr. President, if they give her a bill, you better pay it. [laughter and applause]

MAGILL: We were not able to get to all of the questions. I'm sorry about that, but I think we've all had an extraordinary experience. I heard a nasty rumor, Justice Sotomayor, that the dean of Berkeley law school tried to get you to choose between Berkeley and Stanford. I'm not going to put you to that choice because I know you love both…


MAGILL: …Stanford and Berkeley. I think of a Supreme Court justice as the ultimate law nerd job, and we at Stanford are proud of being all sorts of different nerds. [applause] So here is a small bit of Stanford swag, which is "fear the nerds," and that you should "nerd up." [cheers and applause]

SOTOMAYOR: I tell kids all the time that I grew up being a nerd. I had glasses this thick. I was called "Compy" by my friends, for computer heard. Take pride in being nerds. [cheers and applause]

Speech from