PISCATAWAY, NJ – U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor greeted hundreds of students, staff and other Rutgers community members on Monday at the university’s Athletic Center as she spoke about what motivates her to be an influential member of the Latino community.
"I set a standard for myself; I do what I think is important,” said Sotomayor. “To be a leader you have to live a life by example. You have to show people there is a better way.”
The Rutgers Eagleton Institute marks its 60th Anniversary this year and for its 5th Annual Louis J.Gambaccini Civic Engagement Series, the Institute's Director Dr. Ruth Mandel welcomed Justice Sotomayor to talk about her career with the nation’s highest judicial body and about the inspiration for her memoir, “My Beloved World.”
“Sotomayor is an extraordinary role model for Rutgers students, many of whom dream of achieving the kind of success she has shown can be possible through perseverance and hard work,” said Mandel.
Nominated May 26, 2009 by President Barack Obama and later confirmed to take on the Associate Justice role August 8 of that year, Sotomayor previously served in various judicial positions that ultimately prepared her for the Supreme Court.
She finds it challenging to be a Supreme Court Justice compared to her roles in the lower courts. "We take the cases where reasonable people have disagreed," said Sotomayor. “Generally one side is going to come away feeling vindicated. But someone has lost. That makes the job that much harder.”
The Associate Justice did agree that having diversity within the court makes a difference in how cases are considered.
“We represent the country,” she said. “We make decisions that affect everyone in the country. To your colleagues your voice can let them see an issue in a different way. The manner in which we approach an issue is what has merit.”
Sotomayor admitted that being on the Supreme Court has presented conflicts within her family and circle of friends.
“Sure it changes the relationships,” she said. “There are events I have had to miss because of being on the court. I try to keep relationships the same as close as possible, but we have to make accommodations.”
The first in her family to graduate from college, the Bronx, New York native said she wrote “My Beloved World” to discuss some of the challenges and surprises she has faced in her life. She presents inspirational topics using the same level of objectivity she developed as she became passionate about being a lawyer and judge.
"I have a Puerto Rican heart," said Sotomayor. “The positive and negative experiences of my life crafted me. Who I am is an amalgam of those experiences".
These experiences and others taught Sotomayor to focus on her professional goals of becoming the best lawyer she could which led to her gaining the reputation of being tough but fair.
She advised the students to also become leaders as they develop and pursue their professional goals but “Don’t do any work that you’re not passionate about. If the work doesn’t interest you, if it doesn’t satisfy something in you, then you’re not going to be the best at it.”
Sotomayor later described how she felt while being sworn into the Associate Justice position and becoming the most powerful Latina in the country.
“It was an out of body experience,” she said. “All I could think about was ‘My God thank you for this gift’.”