BERKELEY, Calif. - Students at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law got a special visit from Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court Sonia Sotomayor, where she gave words of wisdom and inspired the next generation of attorneys.
As the first Latina on the highest court in the country, she’s known for her passion for criminal justice reform, race and gender issues. On Monday, students and faculty had the chance to glean from her decades of experience.
"Change never happens on its own. Change happens because people care about moving the arc of the universe towards justice," said Sotomayor.
Dean of the Law School Erwin Chemerinsky moderated a conversation in a packed auditorium, posing questions to the justice. Students following in her footsteps were excited to share a room with her, as she roamed off the stage and into the rows.
"I’m sure the United States Marshals weren’t thrilled with it, but it really is about her reaching out to people in this instance, physically as well as inspirationally," said Chemerinsky.
Sotomayor shared personal stories, took a couple of photos with people in the audience, and got a few chuckles as she imparted words of advice amid a polarizing political culture.
"How can you look at the heroes like Thurgood Marshall, like the Freedom Riders who went to lunch counters and got beat up, to men like John Lewis, who marched over a bridge and had his head busted open," Sotomayor asked. "How can you look at those people and say you’re entitled to despair? You're not."
Sotomayor said she "lives in frustration" with the majority conservative court. "What choice do you have but to fight the good fight?"
Latino students like Claire Connaughton and Laura Forero Orozco were grateful to see her speak.
Forero Orozco said she looked forward to the event because she’s read Sotomayor’s book and finds her relatable. "She comes from a really humble background. She didn’t take a traditional route. She struggled with impostor syndrome and I was excited seeing someone who I think comes from a background so similar to mine," she said.
"I’m also from New York like Sonia Sotomayor and I’m a Latina and I think I was really excited when I learned she was going to come speak to us today," said Connaughton, who was raised by a single mother who was an immigrant. "I wanted a career with the power to make change and where I had skills that could actually help a broad range of people."
When asked how Sotomayor works with colleagues she doesn’t agree with, she told students, "If you look for the good in people, you can deal with the bad more easily. They are as passionate about what they believe, about the constitution, about law, about our country, as I am. We have a different way of understanding what’s good for the country and the law, but it’s not because they’re men or women of ill will."
Sotomayor acknowledged she disagrees with Justice Clarence Thomas. Yet, they get along when they are not passionately discussing politics.
"It makes us think about how we want to reshape our future, even with people we don’t agree with," said Forero Orozco.
Sotomayor discussed why she has been frustrated with recent rulings, but left students with a message of hope.
"It’s your turn now to carry that burden," she said, encouraging people to vote where they want to see change.