Photo: Justice Sonia Sotomayor
“People have views of me and expectations of me that are based on stereotypes,” said Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor in Chicago this week.
The justice spoke at the University of Chicago Law School on Monday about the last year and a half. Justice Sotomayor shared her experiences from advice from colleagues, to being uncomfortable with celebrity status, to the role public opinion plays in judicial decision making.
For 90 minutes, she answered questions from Prof. David A. Strauss as well as some from students. The New York times reported that “the recurring theme [of the questions] was that the public still did not know her very well.”
“People mistake my exuberance, passion and intensity for self-confidence,” said Sotomayor.
She stated that she welcomed being a role model for Hispanics, but noted that her ethnicity does not affect her ability to perform her judicial role.
“I don’t come to the process as a woman of color, saying that I have to come to a decision that will help a specific group of people,” she said.
Nevertheless, she did bring up her disagreement with Chief Justice Roberts’ approach to racial equality cases. In 2007, regarding limited use of race to achieve integration I public schools, he wrote, “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” Justice Sotomayor disagrees with this, and called Justice Roberts’ approach “too simple.”
“I don’t borrow Chief Justice Roberts’s description of what colorblindness is,” she said. “Our society is too complex to use that kind of analysis.”
She was quick to say that was the really the only kind of tension among the justices. Sotomayor went on to address the fact that many think the Supreme Court justices don’t like each other.
“The public sometimes thinks the justices don’t like each other because they read our opinions and see the barbs going back and forth,” she said, but the reality is that they’re all doing their jobs, and as her predecessor told her, every justice is acting on good faith. She also spoke of the advice she received from then Justice John Paul Stevens. When she had expressed doubt that she’d ever be able to match the quality of work of the now retired justice he told her, “Sonia, I wasn’t born a justice. I’ve had many, many years. You have all the skills to be a great justice, but you have to develop them and grow into them.”
Asked about the role political opinion takes in the courtroom, Justice Sotomayor said the court does not take it into account, but added, “On the vast majority of cases, I bet we’re right with them.”
When asked how she felt about being in the spotlight all of a sudden, she expressed that she misses the anonymity and being able to “throw on my sweats and run across the street for a cup of coffee.”