Supreme Court Justice Speaks At U Of I Campus

Mar 8, 2016

A capacity crowd of about two thousand people heard U-S Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor speak at the University of Illinois Krannert Center Monday night in Urbana.

Credit Niala Boodhoo / Illinois Public Radio

The university’s College of Law hosted the event, in which Sotomayor spoke with Law Professor Robin Kar for about 40 minutes, and then answered questions from students.

U of I Constitutional Law Professor Jason Mazzone attended the event. He says Sotomayor’s answer to a student question about what makes a good legal argument should resonate with his students.

“Don’t overstate your case,” said Sotomayor. “Don’t overstate precedent. Never manipulate the facts, tell them exactly the way they are.  Explain when you’re differing from established law. Explain why you think your difference still permits you to win. Be honest above all. Integrity in everything you do, in every argument you take, in every opinion you give your client.”

Mazzone says overstating one’s case is “something that many law students and many beginning lawyers tend to do, to think that everything lines up perfectly on their side, all the facts are on your side, all the law is on your side. That’s rarely the case.”

Sotomayor also said as part of that answer that “you have to be enough of a zealot to be passionate about representing your client, but have enough integrity always to know what the right answer is.”

Other topics addressed by the Supreme Court justice  ranged from her  upbringing in the South Bronx, to her thoughts on recently deceased Supreme Court colleague Antonin Scalia, of whom she said, “He was the brother who at moments I wanted to kill … but who I loved.  We really are a family.”

Justice Sotomayor is also scheduled to be on the U of I Urbana campus Tuesday. She’ll serve as one of the three judges for the College’s Moot Court program, which allows third-year law students to argue an actual case before a judicial panel.

U of I College of Law Dean Vikram Amar says whether students are participating in the moot court or just watching, they'll gain invaluable experience.

"The Supreme Court, whatever you think about some of its decisions, represents the pinnacle of a very noble and a very important profession," said Amar. "And all the members of the current Supreme Court are superb legal craftspersons. And so students get to learn a lot from just watching the way Justice Sotomayor asks questions at the Moot Court."

Sotomayor has served on the US Supreme Court since 2009, after being nominated by President Barack Obama and confirmed by the Senate. She is the first Supreme Court justice of Hisanic heritage.