Fall 2016

A Brooklyn Welcome for a Supreme Court Justice

A memorable evening with trailblazing Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

In April, Brooklyn Law School students, faculty, alumni, and leaders in the legal community crowded into Plymouth Church in Brooklyn Heights to hear from Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

“We gather in this historic place of worship,” Dean Nick Allard said in his introduction, “not for prayer, but to engage in the kind of public discourse that should not be as scarce as it is today. Tonight we look forward to a civil, intelligent, and lively conversation with one of the most respected and remarkable people ever to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States.”

A former commencement speaker and honorary degree recipient who addressed the graduating class of the Law School 15 years ago, Justice Sotomayor began her remarks this spring by praising the Law School community for its quality and diversity among students, alumni, and faculty, “whose depth rivals any in the nation.”

“Brooklyn Law School treats you like family,” said Sotomayor, who knows this well, having worked closely with Sparkle Sooknanan ’10, who clerked for her in 2013. “People here care about you. They do everything in their power to make sure that you’re following your passions in life.”

After her remarks, a question-and-answer session with the audience was moderated by Judge Andrew P. Napolitano, a distinguished visiting professor of law and the senior judicial analyst for Fox News, and Dean Allard. In her engaging style, the Justice walked up and down the aisles while answering questions, and warmly greeted students, faculty, and friends.

Topics ranged from the early days of her career as an Assistant District Attorney in Manhattan, which she said taught her to think on her feet, to her experiences on the highest court in the United States. She also drew laughs from the crowd when she related the story of her stepfather’s reluctance to take time off from work to be with her and her mother in the Rose Garden when the president announced her nomination.

Her most heartfelt and powerful statement came during her response to a student’s question about diversity on the Court. It was also a statement widely recounted and circulated by the media.

“There is a disadvantage from having five Catholics, three Jews, and everyone from an Ivy League school,” she said. “A different perspective can permit you to more fully understand the arguments that are before you and help you articulate your position in a way that everyone will understand.”

She illustrated her point about perspective by referencing a 2009 oral argument in which fellow Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg proposed to her male colleagues that they had wrongly equated a strip search of a middle-school girl with changing for gym class in a locker room because they had “never been a 13-year-old girl.” Ultimately, the Court ruled, 8–1, that the search was unconstitutional.

Justice Sotomayor went on to say that she believes the Supreme Court needs to be diverse on different fronts, including ethnicity, gender, and professional background.

Dean Allard concluded the evening with Justice Sotomayor by thanking her for her insights and inspiring words. “What a remarkable woman,” he said. “Her presence with us underscores that our great law school is in the forefront of legal education, and that Brooklyn Law School is becoming increasingly known for what it always has been: a center for learning how to use law in the service of people and society, at home and abroad.”

At a reception following the event, Justice Sotomayor graciously posed for many photographs and chatted casually with students, faculty, and alumni, making the evening unforgettable for all in attendance.