Justice Sonia Sotomayor on Wednesday took a break from the middle of a contentious Supreme Court term to console a law student disillusioned with the American justice system.
“Wrong things can be changed, ” Sotomayor told the student, Lauren Burgess, adding: “So don’t give up, OK?”
Sotomayor addressed the audience at Fordham Law School in New York by video from a conference room at the Supreme Court building in Washington, where the justices had met behind closed doors for their regular conference an hour before. The court is currently deliberating over significant cases concerning affirmative action and voting rights, as well as the intersection between religious liberty and LGBTQ rights. The justices are still reeling from the unprecedented leak of a draft opinion last term that ultimately reversed Roe v. Wade, as well as from an array of high-profile cases that divided the bench along familiar ideological lines.
During the talk, Sotomayor – who is the most senior liberal on the court – tread carefully and did not mention any current controversies. But she nodded to the fact that she’s written several high-profile dissents on the conservative-leaning bench in the last few years.
She counseled Burgess to “identify what’s disillusioning you and become a champion of change – go out there and fight.”
“That’s how I get up every morning. I look at what my battle is that day and I accept that for today I might lose,” she said. But, Sotomayor said, she continues to work for change. “The arc of the universe does bend toward justice but we have to help.”
Another student asked the justice about the biggest challenge facing the legal profession in the next five years.
Sotomayor, noting that it faces several challenges, responded that it is “to maintain the public’s trust.”
The justice spoke broadly about the legal profession but her comments come as the court’s public approval ratings have plummeted. Some challenges, she said, have to do with “uncertainties in the law” – and even the actions of the current court, referencing “decisions of my court that are altering approaches to the law in ways that people don’t understand.”
She also spoke about the current partisan divide in Washington, which, she said, could lead to the law “taking an even more prominent place in resolving political disputes because the political branches are unable to.”
Calling on the lawyers in the audience to support the legal profession, Sotomayor urged them to push back at “bad jokes about lawyers.”
“We are a very noble profession,” she said.
“We, as a profession, have done so much good for the world,” she insisted.
“But I think our selling job hasn’t been great lately,” she added to laughter.
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