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‘I’m A Justice, But Also A Human,’ Sotomayor Says At UW-Madison

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor Reflects On Personal Life, Career In Lecture

Sonia Sotomayor
Jeff Chiu/AP Photo

United States Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor made the nation’s highest court seem much more human during her remarks Thursday at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Sotomayor, who was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court by President Barack Obama in 2009, delivered the annual Robert W. Kastenmeier lecture at UW-Madison. She roamed the audience as she took questions from moderators — two of her former clerks — who remained seated on stage.

At one point, Sotomayor stopped to take a photo with an 8-year-old girl in the crowd.

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“Anyone under the age of 8 gets a picture,” she exclaimed.

Later, the justice accepted a small gift from an audience member: a tiny likeness of Madison’s iconic Memorial Union Terrace chair.

Sotomayor said she believes many people view the Supreme Court as a “distant and unknowable institution.”

“But if I can talk to the general public about who I am, how important and passionate I am about the law, how important and passionate my colleagues are about it, even when we disagree, then maybe we can change people’s perception of the court,” she said.

The justice also spoke about the late Justice Antonin Scalia, saying his death in February has left “a big hole in the court.”

She shared her memories of the late justice, referring to him by a nickname used by his family, friends and colleagues, “Nino.”

“My favorite view was looking at Nino making faces,” she said. “I try not to emulate him, but, I must say, it was fun to watch. Or the big smile that would come before he was going to lay into a lawyer.”

Sotomayor also spoke about her judicial philosophy, the mentorship she received from retired justice John Paul Stevens, and her belief in the importance of the court’s judges having diverse professional and personal backgrounds.