Sotomayor LAW ’79 returns to speak at Law School reunion

In a talk Saturday, Sotomayor recounted the chaotic process of her Supreme Court nomination.
In a talk Saturday, Sotomayor recounted the chaotic process of her Supreme Court nomination. Photo by Brian Chang.

Thirty-three years ago, Sonia Sotomayor LAW ’79 never would have imagined that one day she would be addressing 1,800 alumni, faculty and students in Woolsey Hall, she said Saturday as she did just that.

Sotomayor, who became the country’s first Hispanic justice on the U.S. Supreme Court in August, was back on campus this weekend to take part in her 30th reunion. At the Woolsey Hall event, Sotomayor discussed her time at Yale and her experience of being nominated for the Supreme Court position with Law School professor Kate Stith, according to five audience members who attended the event, which was closed to the press.

When asked after her talk at Woolsey what it was like being back in New Haven, Sotomayor told the News, “It’s great being back.”

For much of the talk, Sotomayor spoke of the lengthy process of becoming President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, audience members said.

The judge said that the day Obama was elected president of the United States was the day that her life “went topsy-turvy.” Speculation of how courts would be affected by this change in government began, and Sotomayor’s name started to get mentioned in the press.

On Apr. 27, 2009 Sotomayor received a phone call on the way to the gym and her office saying the White House Legal Counsel Office was trying to get in contact with her, two audience members said. Writing down the number, Sotomayor got in her car and called the office back, she said.

Sotomayor said she was told the office had reason to believe there would be a resignation on the Supreme Court. A staffer told her the office wanted to include Sotomayor’s name on a list of potential candidates that would be background-checked, she said. “Do not tell anyone,” the staffer added.

“My heart skipped a beat,” Sotomayor told the audience.

Sotomayor said the investigation was very intrusive — an agent from the FBI was even sent to investigate a parking ticket that the Supreme Court judge had received two years beforehand, she said.

She also spoke about her nerve-wracking interview with Obama, audience members said.

“It was a conversation like none other that I have ever had,” Sotomayor said, adding that she “almost fainted” when she met the president.

Shortly after the interview, Obama called Sotomayor to inform her that he nominated her to be the new Supreme Court justice.

Sotomayor also answered Stith’s questions about her experience at the Law School, audience members said. For Sotomayor, the most important aspect of her time at the Law School was the time she spent with her classmates, she said.

“Afternoons that others would consider wasted hours, to me, were my Yale experience,” Sotomayor said,two of those audience members recalled.

Of her education, Sotomayor said “learning was fun at Yale” — more so than at Princeton, where she earned her undergraduate degree. She noted that during her time at Yale, professors treated students as equals, which she said was rare at law schools, and that the Law School was very diverse — another issue that is very important to her.

Students sat primarily on the second and third floors of Woolsey Hall to listen to the judge. Elisabeth Centeno LAW ’11 said that she appreciated the opportunity to hear Sotomayor’s story.

“Every time I hear her speak, her humbleness is exuded,” Centeno said. “She really is someone to look up to, and I’m so grateful to her for being the voice of diversity. Not all people of color do that.”

Other students said they were less pleased that Sotomayor’s talk focused on her time at Yale and her ascension to the Supreme Court.

“I was really disappointed that she didn’t spend any time talking about more extensive policy issues,” Arjun Kavi ’12 said. “The reason I wanted to go was to hear about issues that are facing the Supreme Court, but the discussion seemed to pointedly avoid that.”

After the event at Woolsey, Sotomayor met with present and former deans of the Law School, faculty and close friends in an intimate coffee discussion in the Law School Dean’s Office before attending a dinner in the President’s Room at Woolsey Hall with the rest of the class of 1979.


  • Recent Alum

    Does Sotomayor realize how easy she had it compared to Justice Thomas, Justice Alito or, obviously, Judge Bork?

  • Tenured Yale Full Prof

    To ‘Recent Alum’… indeed. It’s appalling how impeccable credentials, the lack of scandal, two Ivy League degrees, and years of experience on a federal court can buy you a smooth senate confirmation. Scandalous.

  • student

    I am confused by how you have included direct quotations from the justice, considering the event was closed to press. Do you have any way of verifying the information in the article byond the few people you talked to?As someone who attended the talk, some of what you reported struck me as a misrepresentation of what she said.

  • ahhh

    To Tenured Yale Full Prof, one would think that a person of such experience as Sotomayar, would have by now stated her stand on think?

  • Recent Alum

    #2: Well, Justice Alito certainly had “impeccable credentials”, “two Ivy League degrees” (the same as Sotomayor’s) and “years of experience on a federal court,” so I guess it comes down to scandal.

    Alito was an (inactive) member of Concerned Alumni of Princeton, and ANOTHER member of CAP had written something that offended feminists! That’s a scandal!! By contrast, Sotomayor suggesting that her racial background affects her decisionmaking = not a scandal. Also, Sotomayor’s contemptible handling of Ricci (as thoroughly exposed by Judge Cabranes) = not a scandal. Oh, I see how this works.

  • yls

    I am horrified, though not surprised, to see that even Yale’s own newspaper couldn’t respect the off-the-record aspect of the conversation. You guys should be ashamed of yourselves, both for the poor reporting and the failure to respect a completely understandable condition from someone within our own community.

  • Law grad

    Justice SS makes Yale proud. It was a fantastic talk, although I wish Professor Stith had had time to ask her more about her first impressions of the Supreme Court.

    The idea of calling a talk before 1800 people (if there were that many) an “off the record” event strikes me as a little silly.

  • Anon

    How can you report on an event that was closed to the press?

  • To Ahhh

    Why? Roberts and Alito haven’t, even though we know where they stand.

  • Timmons

    Why would she bother to state her stance on abortion. There’s no litmus test for selection after all, as every president makes clear. Whether we do or do not know somebody’s stance on this one issue is surely immaterial then.

  • fre 56

    to #2- Oh yes, years and years of scandal free experience, no political baggage, no evidence of favoritism, nepotism or racial bias in her career, and absolutely earth shattering decisions that changed the judical landscape. Never mind the personal connections to “civic” organizations in New York that are so above reproach! Truly scandalous indeed!

  • Seattle Lite

    Yale Daily News is more like a “school paper” than mainstream press, and as such, entitles them to report on university relate matters and activities. It’s not a big deal.

    Someone mentioned Justice Thomas up there and how tough it was for him and Alito and Bork to go through the process. Thomas was found to have committed sexual harrassment in the work place. I wouldn’t be surprised if he still making inappropriate remarks and jokes in his office, to be honest with you. Clarence Thomas is also unqualified to be a Supreme Court judge. Has anyone heard or read any of his opinions? Nobody. It’s because they were unremarkable and simply not impressive.

  • y10

    I agree with yls. It is ridiculous that the YDN could not respect a simple request to keep the conversation off the record. This article purports to include direct quotes from Justice Sotomayor, yet it seems to rely on a few accounts from attendees. What kind of reporting is this?

  • thoughtful alum

    why hasn’t anyone brought up Harriet Miers? Does SS REALIZE how EASY she had it comparison?

  • joey

    Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayer has arrived in New Haven to babble and pick up two checks. One from Yale payroll dept. and one from the City of New Haven.
    Thank you very much, and she’ll see you cabrones in court

  • robert99

    Did she have time to talk to the New Haven firefighters?

  • Y11

    Agreed with yls and Y10. No public officials should ever have their statements or actions reported if they don’t want them to be, or if a third party has declared them “off the record” — a right of the shy public official, not a privilege granted by the reporter.

  • TC ’13

    I attended the Sotomayor conversation, and must say the same thing:

    This was supposed to be off the record. There’s a reason for this. The fact that the conversation was to be off-the-record should have allowed her to be more frank, more honest. With the press reporting – YDN certainly is the press – on the conversation, it makes Sotomayor unable to be frank.

    This newspaper is just an unbelievable showing of poor article selection (editorials about nothing, see the article on “beauty and justice”, and articles about ridiculous topics, see the article about a gay guy soliciting sex on Craiglist). Make the YDN reputable, and put only all the news that’s fit to print.

  • not very proud

    All I can say is SS does nothing for me as a “latina woman”, whatever that means. She does not represent me (even though I am Cuban)! With that being said, I am neither excited nor dissapointed in her new occupation since I do not believe a woman (latina women) can make better decisions than a white man.

  • Spray

    Harriet Miers was a moron with no qualifications. Even most of the Right realized this right away, which is why they attacked the pick almost as much as the Left did.

  • Not proud of SS either

    A woman of sub-par intellect, an ethnic appointment. What’s to be proud of? Her attempt to submarine the Ricci v. DeStefano case was an utter disgrace, as was her choice to allow Mayor DeStefano to attend her White House confirmation party, which displayed a shocking disregard for how that would look to lawyers and litigants. It fueled the sense of many that the entire process of deciding that case was corrupt. Her conduct not only should have disqualified her from elevation to the Supreme Court but gotten her shunned in decent society. While she was in New Haven, she should have stopped by one of the city’s firehouses to see just what kind of racial strife and damage she caused, damage that is irreversible.