Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor Came to Hofstra

The first Latina and third woman to serve on the Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor, was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2009. Only a few years before that, she came to Hofstra University for the first time, recalled University President Stuart Rabinowitz. At the convocation that year, he also predicted she would make a great Supreme Court Justice.

On Monday, October 16th the justice returned to Hofstra as a guest speaker for the Maurice A. Deane School of Law and a handful of lucky undergraduate students were able to score a seat.

At the start, Justice Sotomayor sat with Dean Prudenti of the Hofstra Law School for a quick Q&A. Two plush chairs were set on the stage with a polished wooden table separating the two. First, Dean Prudenti asked should cameras finally be brought into the Supreme Court?

Short answer, no. Justice Sotomayor explained that when cameras get brought into the situation, we are only human and as much as we’d like to think that cameras won’t alter our behavior, they will. The Supreme Court operates best when they’re less concerned about media attention and more concerned with the case at hand.

The Supreme Court hears an estimate of about 80 cases a year, should that number go up or stay as is?— Deane Prudenti moved on. Justice Sotomayor said that the number of cases brought to the Supreme Court usually goes up when there are new laws and there haven’t been many of those recently, she said taking a slight dig at Congress. 

After just two questions with Dean Prudenti, the justice took questions from the law students in a unique way that surprised us all. Getting up from her seat she told us that she didn't really like sitting and talking. Moving around helped her think better.

“See these guys standing around the room?” she asked, pointing to the men and women with wires on their necks. “They’re U.S. Marshals, they're here to protect me from me,” she joked, lightening the room. “Here’s the deal, they’re under direction to drag me out of here if they feel there’s danger, and I don't want to be dragged out. So, I’m going to move around and you’re going to stay put, deal?”

As the first student asked a question the justice slowly made her way towards her, making sure to shake the hand of every person sitting on the aisle, even those sitting a few seats in. Finally reaching the student at the end of her answer, she would take a picture with them and say, “Good luck to you,” and move on to the next question.

She talked about her life experience and how she equipped herself to break through challenges to get to where she is today, but it was her profound ability to understand people’s actions that really stuck.

Justice Sotomayor spoke the most about fear. First, she told us that when people bring cases to the Supreme Court, they are doing it out of hurt and fear. One of the first things she had to learn as a justice was just because she didn’t agree with someone, didn’t make them an inherently bad person. A person with a different belief system than you can be a kind and wonderful person. When the way a person understands and sees the world begins to change, they get scared. How they act on that fear may not be agreeable, but it is seldom out of flat-out hatred.

She then spoke of her own fears, asking us all to imagine how we felt during transitionary periods in our lives — going from high school to college, or college to law school, or any other new and foreign experience to us. She explained it as bittersweet because there is a fear. Everyone, no matter who they are, is a little afraid before they take on a new challenge.

Justice Sotomayor spoke of a time when she was 17 that fear truly got the better of her when she interviewed at Harvard. Walking into the office to be interviewed was such a culture shock for her that it was the shortest interview she ever had. After it ended she went straight home, skipping all the tours and her intended overnight stay. When she returned, she told her mother, “I don’t belong there.”

She ended up at Princeton instead — not the worst deal one can make. Since then, she has worked to live a life not controlled by fear but instead, to understand where it is coming from and work past it.

Her speech ended with how she viewed judgment. Justice Sotomayor believes that judgment and human experience are intertwined. The cases she hears are real. She reminded us and they happen to real people who are hurt by these situations. Justice Sotomayor encourages other judges to channel understanding, as long as they are aware of their methods.

At the conclusion of her second appearance at Hofstra, Justice Sotomayor succeeded in thoroughly inspiring her audience and bringing the room to their feet. She also left with a little pride and took home a Hofstra Baseball jersey with the number 99 on the back for being the 99th Justice to serve on the Supreme Court.