Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A Conversation with Justice Sonia Sotomayor

Judge Ann C. Williams (left) interviews Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
It was our great pleasure on Monday, January 21, 2011, to host A Conversation with United States Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Justice Sotomayor impressed us all with her warmth, insights and dedication to service of her country.

Justice Sotomayor and I
Judge Ann Claire Williams of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals conducted a “Barbara Walters” style interview of Justice Sotomayor before a sold-out crowd of over 700 in the Ballroom of the Standard Club. The Justice spoke openly of her compelling life story – a journey from the projects in the Bronx (she is a big Yankees fan) to the highest court of our land. She told a story of the father of a high school classmate who in her presence callously commented, seeing a Puerto Rican Day Parade on TV: “Those people are ruining our country.” The Justice spoke of how she spent a summer in college reading several English-language classic children’s books because she felt she was missing references to their stories in her literature classes at Princeton because they were not the stories she knew as a child. And she laughed as she related how frustrated she was, as a new freshman at Princeton, when she could not locate and dispose of a cricket that was disturbing her sleep at night – you see, she told us, there were no crickets in the Bronx.

Justice Sotomayor spoke equally compellingly about advice that she received from her predecessor, Justice Souter, and from Justice John Paul Stevens. Justice Souter counseled Justice Sotomayor that he enjoyed his job immensely once he realized that all of his colleagues on the Supreme Court were motivated by the same love of our Constitution that he feels, and that they while they sometimes disagree with each other, each of the Justices is acting in good faith in furtherance of the same goal. Justice Stevens, she told us, advised her that serving as a Supreme Court Justice is a constant growing process, that she has all the tools she will need to succeed, and that she should allow herself to grow.

Justice Sotomayor with Judge Williams (left)
and Judge Ilana D. Rovner, 7th Circuit U.S. Court
of Appeals.
The Justice told us that she still feels she is having an out-of-body experience when she thinks about the fact that she serves on the Supreme Court. Asked whether she ever has to pinch herself, Justice Sotomayor responded, “I don’t pinch myself because I don’t want to wake up.” Justice Sotomayor said that she considered saying no when President Obama asked her to serve on the Supreme Court, out of concern whether she would be able to continue to spend time with her aging mother. When she related her intention to her mother, the Justice said, her mother responded , “I have sacrificed my whole life for you and your brother so that you could get to this point . Don’t deprive me of this.”

It is clear that Justice Sotomayor feels a strong call to serve our country. She spoke of the importance of giving back to our community, and to answer the call when our country calls. She talked of how, throughout her career, she has been involved in pro bono work, and how even now she frequently meets with groups of citizens to educate them about the Court.

Joining me at a reception before the event are (left to right) Justice Mary Jane
Theis, Illinois Supreme Court; Justice Sotomayor, Chief Justice Thomas
Kilbride, Illinois Supreme Court; and Justice Anne Burke, Illinois Supreme Court.
It was an inspiring afternoon. Our great thanks to Justice Sotomayor for being willing to share the afternoon with us, and to our good friend, Judge Williams, for inviting Justice Sotomayor to come to Chicago to speak to us.