A Conversation with Justice Sonia Sotomayor

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

There may have never been a better public spokesperson for the United States Supreme Court. Justice Sotomayor, vacationing in Alaska, was kind enough to spend a little over an hour with a packed house at the Dena’ina Convention Center in Anchorage. WC attended by webcast. Over the course of more than an hour, the Justice answered questions, shook hands with many of the 1,200 in attendance, gave out a few hugs and, yes, posed for photos with anyone age 8 or under.

In a wide-ranging conversation, she answered pre-submitted questions with candor and charm. She told stories about her family, her early career and her approach to the law, all while walking through the crowd, shaking hands and hugging strangers.

Try, just try, to imagine Chief Justice John Roberts doing that.

Perhaps her best single response came to a question about why she thought diversity was important on the court. WC’s readers may remember the Republican hysteria over her “wise Latina” comment during her confirmation. Justice Sotomayor pointed out that the current court consists solely of Jews and Catholics, and is mostly from the East Coast. It may have three women – an all-time high, of course – but the current members don’t really represent modern America. She told of oral argument on a cell phone search case, when an unidentified old White justice asked why anyone would have two cell phones, with the implication it was practically proof someone was a drug dealer. Justice Sotomayor pointed out that she and practically every government employee had two cell phones, a personal one and a government one.

She gave us insights into how the court works, the relationships among the justices and note-passing among the justices during oral argument. She explained that oral argument is as much an exchange of views among the justices as a probing of the arguments of counsel.

But mostly she showed us an extremely intelligent, deeply rooted and intensely human judge who is also a rock star.

And Yes, Justice Sotomayor, being a rock star is a good thing. Thanks for sharing your time with us.

UPDATE: One of WC’s correspondents advises: “Carol and I were lucky enough to attend her talk in Fairbanks, and both got a handshake as she roamed the back of the theater. Just to emphasize that it’s not an act, I learned later that before she began her talk in the packed Davis Concert hall, she ran over to the overflow video-cast room in Salisbury to say hi in person to the folks who didn’t get there early enough to get in to the main room. Now THAT’S a class act.”