Brooklyn Heights

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor talks with college students at St. Francis

Sotomayor Says Not to Expect Radical Changes in Supreme Court Bench

February 3, 2017 By Rob Abruzzese Brooklyn Daily Eagle
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor gave a talk to St. Francis College students on Thursday. Eagle photo by Rob Abruzzese
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More than 700 people packed into a gym at St. Francis College on Thursday to watch U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who was at the school to talk about her life and answer pre-approved questions from students.

“Justice Sotomayor and Brooklyn Law grad, her law clerk, inspire our students and graduates,” Brooklyn Law School Dean Nicholas Allard told the Brooklyn Eagle following the talk. “They remind us that law and lawyers can make a difference and improve the world. They demonstrate that in America the legal profession and access to justice under law should be for everyone without regard to economic means, gender, race, ethnic heritage, belief or national origin.”

Sotomayor, who grew up in a housing project in the Bronx, walked amongst the students, often stopping to pose for a picture, as she talked about her upbringing and offered them advice. The talk was also moderated by a St. Francis College alumna, Sparkle Sooknanan, who also used to clerk for the justice.

“She was very circumspect in what she said, which she had to be, but at the same time she was totally engaging,” said Gregory LaSpina, past president of the Columbian Lawyers of Brooklyn, who was in attendance for the talk. “For her audience, I’m sure it was great for her to meet students that have similar backgrounds to her. This is a school that draws a lot of immigrants and their children and she was inspirational sharing her life story.”

Hon. Lizette Colon, president of the Catholic Lawyers Guild of Brooklyn, was in attendance and said that the reaction from the students was one of the most moving parts of the entire event.

“She talked about coming up through the ranks, her experiences and gave her words of wisdom to the college students that was right on the mark,” Colon said. “Walking through and touching everybody, she was like the Pope. She is a rock star. The place was up to the rafters.”

While her talk never became overly controversial, Sotomayor, who is the third female U.S. Supreme Court justice and the first Hispanic U.S. justice, said that she would like to see more diversity on the bench. She clarified that it didn’t just mean different sexes and skin colors, but added that people from all over the country with different educational backgrounds need to be included as well.

“Look, everyone is an Ivy Leaguer,” she said. “Is that a bad thing? I don’t think that’s a bad thing, but it’s not a good thing either.”

As she walked through the crowd, often shaking hands with students, she gave them direction on how to find careers that are right for them. When a female student asked about recent women’s rights issues, she shared stories from her life and gave examples of how she handled certain situations.

“We women still lag behind,” Sotomayor said. She told women that not every battle has to be fought and encouraged them to use different tactics given the situation. She then used the example of a time a marshal referred to her as “honey,” and explained how she simply corrected the officer. She then explained that other situations require a more direct approach.

Sotomayor did reference President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Hon. Neil Gorsuch, at one point, though not by name. She was asked about how she sees the bench changing in upcoming years and explained how she doesn’t expect radical shifts soon.

“In your lifetime, the likelihood of the court changing completely more than once is unlikely,” said Sotomayor. “So given the current nominee is 49 years old, he has the possibility of serving 30 years, 40, maybe more … No matter how you put that timeframe, it means the basic essence of the court as you know it today is going to be there for a lot of years. If you are looking for a radical change of the face of the court from the backgrounds that exist today, don’t think you are going to find radical changes.”


ABOVE: After the talk, St. Francis College gave the Supreme Court justice an honorary Doctorate of Law degree. Pictured from left: Linda Werbel Dashefsky, vice president for government and community relations; John F. Tully, chairman, board of trustees; Justice Sotomayor; Thomas J. Volpe, chairman emeritus; Sparkle Sooknanan; and Timothy J. Houlihan, the president of St. Francis College. Photo courtesy of St. Francis College

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