WHITE PLAINS -- Supreme Court nominees never again get the kind of attention that comes during the confirmation process, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said Monday in a question-and-answer session with law students.
"It's the only time the public pays attention to justices as people," Sotomayor said. "After you're a justice it's unlikely you'll get that kind of attention." Sotomayor spoke at Pace Law School in White Plains, taking prescreened questions from students and dispensing advice about legal careers. Questions from reporters were not permitted.
The justice, who was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Barack Obama in 2009, said nominees "wouldn't be worth their salt" if they answered questions from politicians about their positions on issues of the day. But she said the confirmation process "does have some value" in letting the public know a nominee's qualifications.
Sotomayor said she does not believe public opinion affects any justices, but, "You do worry about having to explain a decision so that you don't incite the public . . . Your degree of clarity has to be even greater." When Sotomayor was asked to name a mentor, she said, "Picking any one of them would be an injustice to the others." But she urged the students to "find a professor in the area that you need the most help in." One student said her immigrant parents were pressuring her to go into a high-paying area of the law. Sotomayor, who grew up in the Bronx and is the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice, said that was understandable. But, she added, "Find something that makes you happy . . . In the end, your parents will be happy with you."
Asked about her judicial philosophy, Sotomayor said she does not have one. She said the law controls the outcome of a case.
"What I can control is whether people are fairly heard or not," she said.
Sotomayor, 58, said she believes that laws, rather than courts, took the lead in promoting women's rights and that the court is "keeping pace" with society.
She said that when the newest justice, Elena Kagan, was sworn in, in 2010, Obama asked Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the most senior of the three women on the court, "Are you happy I brought you two sisters?" Sotomayor said Ginsburg replied, "I'll be happier when you bring me five."