U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor Speaks to Students at American University Washington College of Law

Sonia Sotomayor, associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, spoke at American University Washington College of Law on Tuesday about her book, My Beloved World, and her experiences as a law student, lawyer, and justice of the high court.

Sotomayor was greeted by applause and a standing ovation from a room of more than 250 law students, faculty, and staff members.

“It is amazing, this law school,” said Sotomayor. “Forty percent diversity is a statistic no one can rival—many places are trying, and many places say they’re trying, but they’re not. It is a real tribute to all of you that you’re here, and building the futures you are.”

Claudio Grossman, dean of the law school, provided opening remarks for the event; he spoke of the parallel between Justice Sotomayor’s and the law school’s founding mothers’ commitment to diversity in the legal profession. The law school was founded by women in 1896 at a time when women were excluded from the legal profession. (Pictured Right: Justice Sotomayor with Dean Claudio Grossman)

“The story of your life resonates profoundly with the history of our community, the Washington College of Law, and how this community projects itself as a unique and powerful voice for strengthening human dignity through the rule of law,” said Grossman.

Sotomayor weaved throughout the audience and spoke about the lessons in her book, explaining that her motivation for writing began after her overwhelming Supreme Court nomination experience. Read a full recap of the event on the Blog of Legal Times.

“It was important for me not to lose touch with who Sonia was – not Justice Sotomayor, but Sonia—and the book became a way of me reminding myself,” she said.

Of all the messages in her book, Sotomayor said she hoped the students would understand how passionately she loves the law.

“I really think of the legal profession as the most noble of all professions, because what we do as lawyers—and if you’re doing it right as lawyers—is service,” said Sotomayor. “It doesn’t mean you have to be only a public interest or a government lawyer. It means that you must practice your profession with integrity. Understanding that whether it is a private or public corporation, whether it’s an individual with or without money, that your job as a lawyer is to help them in their relationships in society to be decent to one another, to be caring about one another, to do their work with a sense of decent purpose.”

Law students Matthew Lopas, Katelin Morales, Juhi Tariq, Alexandra Arango, and Garge Sen had the opportunity to ask Sotomayor questions about diversity on the federal bench, reading Supreme Court decisions, what she does for fun, and whether there is a glass ceiling in the legal profession. (Pictured Left: Justice Sotomayor with student Juhi Tariq)

“With respect to the glass ceiling, the numbers are very telling,” said Sotomayor. “Certainly there is [one]; we’re improving and in lots of different areas. We have more women judges being appointed, but we’re not 50 percent…. And if you’re talking about minorities, in every field of law we are underrepresented. But most importantly, in the upper echelons. The number of minority partners is dismally small. The number of minority decision makers in government is disproportionate to their numbers in the general workforce. Sure there are glass ceilings, and we have to continue knocking down the doors and the barriers to ensure we’re moving people forward.”

Following her remarks, Sotomayor took photos with students and visited those attendees who were viewing the presentation via video feeds in alternate rooms due to the overwhelming attendance. She also attended a reception with student leaders, faculty, and administrators.

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Justice Sonia Sotomayor attended Yale Law School and graduated in 1979. From 1979-84, she served as the Assistant District Attorney in the New York County District Attorney’s Office. She then served as an associate and partner at Pavia & Harcourt where she litigated international commercial matters in New York City. In 1991, President George H.W. Bush nominated her to serve on the U.S. District Court, and she served from 1992-98. She went on to serve as a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and was nominated by President Barack Obama to serve as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court on May 26, 2009. She assumed the role on Aug. 8, 2009.