AuthorAyers, Andrew B.
PositionSupreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor

Justice Sotomayor appeared before students at Albany Law School on April 3, 2017, to receive the Kate Stoneman Award, which honors the first woman to graduate from the law school, who successfully campaigned to become the first woman admitted to the bar in New York State. The Justice took every opportunity to engage with students, holding a series of off-the-record meetings with small groups before the appearance transcribed here. And in that appearance, she went well past the announced time to continue taking questions from students.

The theme to which she returns over and over throughout her remarks is respect. In this introduction, I want to call attention to three kinds of respect that she emphasizes in those remarks: respect for one's self and one's human feelings; respect for the legal system; and respect for one's adversaries.

Respect for one's self and one's feelings. The Justice draws careful lines when she describes the role that feelings play in her judging: the judicial voice, she says, is "not the voice of fiction and not the voice of emotion but the voice of explanation." But she is fiercely insistent on being a flawed and human person, freely describing what she sees as her own flaws, like her tendency to sometimes stare unnervingly at litigants, and her feelings of being embarrassed by her family (like the aunt she caught stealing napkins from the White House), and how long it took her to learn to be open with family members about her feelings. Judges are people, she insists, and human feelings are nothing to be ashamed of.

"I do not know that as a judge that I have to either hide my human reactions or stop myself from probing the strength and weaknesses of any legal issue because it evokes emotion." And when a student ask about the role of anger in the judicial process, she responds that "[u]nchecked anger" has no role, but "If you are talking about pointed anger--anger that you recognize as anger, anger that is serving a purpose, and that you are utilizing in a directed fashion--that has value." Targeted, thoughtful anger gets people's attention, both in protest movements and in judicial writing. Being human is not a deficiency.

Respect for the legal system. The Justice uses questions on a variety of subjects as opportunities to express a positive vision of different components of the legal system. Of Congress--an institution only sixteen percent of Americans see positively (1)--she speaks in strikingly positive terms...

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