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Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor Comes to Roanoke

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Written by Devon Mitchell

On Tuesday, November 10th, Roanoke College students had the opportunity to talk to Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Hosted by the Public Affairs department and the Turk Pre-Law Program, Justice Sotomayor answered questions from students about a multitude of topics including the late Justice Ginsburg, her experiences as a Latina on the nation’s highest court, and more.

The programming began with Dr. Todd Peppers giving a few words of praise and gratitude to Sotomayor for taking time out of her busy schedule to speak with Roanoke students and staff. She began first by answering questions from students about Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Sotomayor gave nothing but positive affirmations for the late Justice and spoke of the power and wisdom Justice Ginsburg brought to the bench. Justice Sotomayor recalled one memory in particular after she was first confirmed. President Obama asked Justice Ginsburg if she was happy that he brought her another “sister” for the court. Sotomayor recalled RBG’s statement, “I’ll be happier still when I have eight sisters”.

To conclude her statements about RBG, Justice Sotomayor spoke directly to the young women of Roanoke College. She expressed the need for gratitude. Sotomayor said, “All young women owe it to her (Justice Ginsburg) to be able to sit as equals to their male counterparts.”

Next, Justice Sotomayor answered questions about her career in law and the experiences which shaped her. When asked if she had ever doubted herself, she recounted a time when she worked for a law firm and didn’t receive a full-time position after her time there. She said she felt embarrassed and questioned whether or not she was smart enough to pursue a career in law. This led her to the question of “what parts of failure are internal and external”. Upon further thought, instead of questioning her ability and intelligence, she questioned what she could have done better. She asked herself, “why didn’t I ask for help?” and “what didn’t I understand?”.

In addition to questions on how she perceived herself, Justice Sotomayor was asked about how others perceived her and if people ever questioned her credibility because of it. She explained how others thought she was not competent enough and had stereotyped her as a Latina from New York. Justice Sotomayor recalled how it made her feel unworthy of the position and feared the critics were right. She said she found comfort in the late Justice John Paul Stevens words, “No one’s ever born a justice, you grow into things.”

One final theme Justice Sotomayor spoke of was the importance of civics and civic duty in our democracy. She touched on the importance of offering opportunities for civic engagement in more than just English. Sotomayor talked about her work with iCvics and how she has advocated for games and resources to be provided in both English and Spanish to reach a larger audience in schools, as well as offering schools the technology and resources to have these tools for students to readily use. To Justice Sotomayor, “law is service to the community,” and it is the job of the community to participate in their democracy. This includes learning, voting, and generally just taking an active role.

To conclude her discussion with Roanoke College, Justice Sonia Sotomayor answered the question of what has been her favorite experience as a Supreme Court Justice. She smiled and said, “I’m having it right now.” The Justice elaborated and said it was her greatest pleasure to be able to share how she interprets the law and being able to talk with the American people. She enjoys sharing her experiences and ideas and hopes they will make an impact on those she shares them with.