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Sonia Sotomayor
U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice
158 Landon Lecture
Thursday, Jan. 27, 2011

 

Following is the complete text of Thursday's Landon question and answer session featuring Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. She was questioned by U.S. District Court Judge John Lungstrum, Federal Court of Appeals Judge Deanell Tacha, and Danny Unruh, president of the K-State student body.

Judge Tacha: Let me start Justice Sotomayor and say, you know a lot of people out in the public hear about the decisions of the United States Supreme Court, but I suspect few know what your day is like. Would you just describe for us the sort of typical day for you and what do you do as a Justice of the United States Supreme Court?

Justice Sotomayor: I read, a lot. I read all day long. I read cert petitions, bench memos -- cert petitions for those who are not lawyers in the audience are requests by parties for us to hear a case, and they submit briefs explaining to us why we should. Our clerks -- part of a pool -- prepare a bench memo analyzing the claim, telling us what the state of the law is, and we then at a conference that we hold once a week on Friday review the cert petitions that have come in and decide which of those cases we're going to actually hear for oral argument We have about 5,000 to 5,500 petitions a year and every' one of them, with the exception of a handful that get dismissed for procedural reasons, every one of those is considered by all nine Justices and voted upon. That is actually a good part of my work every week. I spend a good portion of every weekend reviewing cert petitions.

The rest of the time I'm reading parties' briefs, I'm reading amici briefs, I'm reading the opinions and memos of my colleagues, I'm firing off responses to them. If you think that making decisions among nine people is easy, remember what you go through at home when you want to decide what movie to go to.' So make the issues a bit more complicated and you have to understand that every time an opinion is drafted there's a whole lot of back-and-forth among the Justices about even small words. And a lot of big thoughts, but everything is reviewed very, very carefully before it's issued.

And then I draft and edit opinions, whether they are majority opinions, concurring opinions, or dissents, each one is a major undertaking and so the days are mixed with lots of different activities vis-à-vis the work. That's the core of our work.

And then there's a part of my work that I didn't appreciate as fully as I thought when I took the job, and that's the education part of our work. I always knew both as a District and a Circuit Court judge, and undertook in both roles to interact with the public because I'm a very, very firm believer that lawyers and judges have an obligation to educate about both what we do, about the law, and about our democracy generally. And so I've always spent time with student groups. Well that's continued, but imagine that when I was a judge in New York the groups I saw were all just New York groups. And I thought, okay now I'm going to see groups from across the country.

So how far can they come from? Well, they come 'from everywhere, but they also come from around the world. Almost on a daily basis, although I try one day a week not to meet with groups so that I can actually concentrate -- that's my day for opinion-writing, and I don't like being interrupted -- but generally four times a week I'm meeting with groups, whether they're lawyer groups, student groups, I've met with second graders. I've met with children from special-needs classes and' spent time talking with them. I've met with senior citizens, I've met with Veterans' groups, I've met with -- you name a group and they come visit our court. And to the extent that I can, I visit with as many groups as I can, but it could become a full-time job so you do try to limit a little bit of that. But we also have official visitors from around the world. I've met with presidents of countries who have come to visit and just talk. We've met with the U.N. Secretary, we've met with Supreme Court Judges and Justices from around the world. So the educational component of the work is very, very significant. That's the day of a Justice. And as my mother said on my first day back visiting her after my appointment, "For some reason I thought you'd be reading less --you're reading more!"

Judge Tacha: Sort of a day in the life of a judge: read, read, and read.

Justice Sotoinayor: Read, exactly.

Mr. Unruh: Justice Sotomayor, on behalf of the 23,000 plus students of Kansas State, welcome to campus, we're very glad to have you here. As a group of people that are going to be entering the workforce and starting careers, I'd like to ask what was the most defining moment that directed your career, in your opinion?

Justice Sotomayor: Danny, I can't tell you that there was one second, one moment, one event that actually said this is going to define my career. It was a sequence of events and each of them sort of culminating in the moment I stood before the president when he nominated me as his candidate for the Supreme Court. I've often been asked did I really believe it was going to happen, and my answer often is you may have dreams of things but you don't really believe they're going to happen, do you? How many of you have been ace pitchers on a major league team? 'How many of us have dreamt of being president at some point in your life? How many have seen themselves up on a big screen? And yes, some people do achieve those roles, but I think most of us, myself in particular, I wanted to be a lawyer when I. was nine-and-a- half, ten years old and my reasons were very simple, really uninformed, and a little polyannic.

But as I developed and I got older, those feelings have really never left me. I love the law. I love the profession of lawyering and I adore being a judge, particularly now being a Justice But the moments for me were at nine-and-a-half when I realized that as a diabetic that I couldn't be Nancy Drew, a detective. I had to figure out what I could do instead, and I saw Perry Mason one night. And for the youngsters in the room, which is probably everybody under the age of thirty in this room, Perry Mason was one of the first, if not the first, television shows about lawyering. And Perry Mason tried criminal cases. And there was a big discussion at my confirmation hearing and I turned out to be right: there was only one case that he lost at trial - he lost at trial a couple of others but he won on appeal. But there was only one case he lost. Perry Mason spent the first half of the show investigating the crime and the second half was a courtroom scene.

And at nine-and-a-half I looked at what he was doing, and I said, gee I could be an investigator as a lawyer, just like Nancy Drew, so that's what I want to be. And I then continued watching Perry Mason and in one episode, after Perry had won yet again, he met up with the prosecutor at a restaurant and said to the prosecutor that he recognized how much work the prosecutor had put into the case and that although he, Perry, was very happy that his client was proven innocent, that he understood that it could be disappointing to the prosecutor. And the prosecutor looked at him and said, Perry you don't understand -- it's my job to do, justice, and justice to me means that those who are guilty are convicted and those who are innocent are set free. And that has stayed with me my entire life. I am a Justice of the Supreme Court. Some of you who are in law school are going to read about how simplistic that idea is, and it is, but it still inspires me. Not letting innocent go free or convicting people -- I'm actually not doing that any more, I'm not a trial judge, I'm not a prosecutor any more, but I am enforcing the rule of law and so that sequence of events was really what set me on my path.

And then each moment that came after in which I made career choices, including when I graduated from law school, it wasn't a foregone conclusion that I was going to be a prosecutor. I had a fortuitous meeting with Bob Morgenthal, the most venerable prosecutor in New York, and completely by accident met him at a conference. We stood next to each other, had a conversation, and he said to me: "Come interview with me tomorrow." I was going to the State Department. And instead I went to interview with him and to make a long story short, he offered me a job and I went a little bit with my intuition and took the job.

So, what are the lessons from what I'm telling you? Don't typecast yourself, and don't judge the choices you're making. Follow a passion, even if that passion's not the norm. I have met accountants who actually love bookkeeping. Why? I don't know. But I know they do. I have met stockbrokers, investment bankers, janitors, taxi drivers, people in all walks of life, who actually take joy from what they do because it suits them. And I think that one of the things that people fret about is they fret about doing something that's "important", I put that word in quotes. Sometimes the things you do become part of history, and I've been fortunate enough to do that right now. But the reality is that most of us spend our time doing work and it should be work that you like doing. And so you shouldn't follow the advice of others about what's right for them, you've got to figure out what feels right for you and do that. My feeling about that is that in the end if you like what you're doing, you're going to do it well and you're going to be noticed. The taxi driver who has a fleet of passengers who take care of him or her when they're sick, is getting as much satisfaction as I am from the work I'm doing. So that really is what I've tried to do in my life, is to figure out what I like, what makes me passionate.

Judge Lungstrum: You mentioned a moment ago, Justice Sotomayor, those in the crowd who are under thirty and I think, there is a substantial group in the crowd who are students here at KU -- K-State, pardon. Looking at Dan Lykins with his purple jacket, how could I have ever said that? My face is redder than Justice Sotomayor's -- who are students here at K-State and I'm sure a number of them are interested in the possibility of pursuing a legal career. And yet at the same time, there's been much written and talked about lately concerning changes in the legal profession, about the burdening debt load that one often acquires in law school and job prospects becoming dimmer and so forth. What can you say to the students here today about whether or not the law is an area that they should consider going into in the face of all of these obstacles that may be being present?

Justice Sotomayor: Well first of all, I'm only going to encourage you to go to law school if you actually like the study of law.

Don't do it because it's a career. Just as I explained earlier, a career is a career, a passion is a passion and you should try to join the two. But assuming that the process, the method of thinking about issues that is provided by the law appeals to you, then stop worrying about making money. When I graduated from law school, at my first job I was making more money than my mother had made her entire life. Now I gave up jobs that would have paid me four times more than the job I took and even my mother was telling me, "What are you, nuts?" What I said to her was I think we think about careers as financial, and they have to be on some level --you've got to work, you have to support a family, you have to educate children - but we live in a society, in my judgment, that has over-big ambitions about what success means.

My family was a happy one living on virtually nothing. And' I don t recommend that to people -- I like where I am now -- but what I'm trying to say is even if you're not going to get a job in a big law firm, there's still medium and small law firms that need you. There are government jobs, public interest jobs, they're not going to pay as much but there's all sorts of work in the legal profession whether it's at law schools, in think-tanks in a variety of different places, including newspapers, who want trained lawyers to write articles or help check on facts. Corporations who hire lawyers not just in their legal department but as advisors to strategic thinking. There are jobs, it may be a little harder to get some of them, but everyone's struggling finding work right now. In the end, if you like what the law is you will find work And the benefit of a law degree is you don't even have to be a lawyer. Look at how many presidents, how many senators and congress people, governors and mayors, politicians of all kinds have legal backgrounds. Look at how many business people, who've never practiced a day of law, went to law school because they thought it would give them some help in analytical thinking. I believe it does. And so I start with the proposition that if it's something you want to do, remember that there's an awful lot of variety in the choices you can make and that the only thing you have to do is be willing not to think just about money.

Judge Tacha: Justice Sotomayor, I think often in the rhetoric and perhaps abroad in society there's a lot of concern about do judges make the law or do they interpret the law? What do we do?

Justice Sotomayor: That's an endless conversation. You know how much I was asked about that at my Senate hearings. Thank you for asking it so I can give you --

Judge Tacha: It's a student's question.

Justice Sotomayor: No, no. In civil law countries -- which are most of Europe, although the Europeans are moving closer to the American common-law system -- people in the civil law countries the only rights you have are the ones that are explicitly stated in a statute. Because of -- and I think it started the common-law interpretation not just from England but as the framework of our Constitution, we don't approach laws generally in the civil manner. We set forth general legal principles, general statements about what Congress wants to accomplish, or the society to accomplish, the rights it wants to give, and it gives the courts the job of ensuring that the borders of whatever Congress has said in the law are understood.
And I talk about borders because Congress generally passes a law thinking about one situation, but given human nature the situations are endless that a law could apply to. And so we're being asked to take those things Congress couldn't have thought about but that fit within the potential umbrella of a law, and to find the parameters of that. It's the sort of thing like the baseball rules. The baseball rules tell you what the strike zone is, but the umpire has to use judgment about where the ball hit in that strike zone. And for those of you who have ever played umpire, you know a lot of those balls are right on the line, so did it tilt that way or this way?

And so for those who see an opinion and say, gee what are those judges thinking of, what they were thinking of was what's my best interpretation of what the law means and how it applies to this situation. For some they call in some situations making law, but judges don't approach the, process that way. They take the analytical tools they're given, the interpretive tools they are taught, and they apply them to the situation and try to come to an answer under their best view using those tools of what the law says. So I don't think that's making law, but I do think that the people who ask that question sometimes don't appreciate the complexity of what judging involves.

Mr. Unruh: Justice Sotomayor, you spoke earlier about the large amount of reading that you do per week. What other efforts do you make continually to learn as a public judicial official about changing affairs in the nation? So how do you keep the pulse on what's going on?

Justice Sotomayor: Danny I saw this question before and I've been thinking about it. I read the newspaper, I do watch the news occasionally--I'm not a TV watcher-- but I do follow the news. I think everybody who works on the internet goes through it constantly, so I do too. But the way I have virtually my entire life getting a pulse of what goes on is by just talking to people. I can't take -- I think I got this, from my mother. If you put my mother, on a bench, she'll make a friend of the tree. Her daughter didn't fall that far from that tree. I spend all my time, wherever I am, talking to whomever I meet to learn a little bit about them. What they do, what they feel about what they do, what's troubling them if they start talking to me about something that's bothering them--sometimes they do -- or what brings them joy. For me, that's my way of staying in touch with the world. I try to go to as many new places, including Kansas, as I humanly can, given the limits placed upon me by my job. But I also try to talk to people who do things that I don't know anything about so I can learn a little something new. So that's how I do.

Judge Lungstrum: You've talked about a number of things here that involve evolution and change and the way things have developed. One of the things that I think a number of people ask questions about the law is its ability to keep up with technological change. Obviously our Constitution comes from an era that so different from the one we're in today. Even much of our statutory law is by its very nature outdated in terms of the sort of technology that was around when certain statutes were passed and so forth. How does the law keep up with this evolution in technology as we go forward?

Justice Sotomayor: John, I think there's two components to this question. The first is how do judges stay on top of technological and scientific developments? Not so easy. For any judge whose handled a patent case, a computer-related case, any of the complex technological cases, it is not easy. On some levels to be a judge, however, you have to have a curiosity about everything because that's one of the wonders of being a judge: we get to learn about every other person's life. I think of myself as a voyeur, an unwelcomed intruder on people's lives. Unwelcomed because if you're in court, you're unhappy about something that happened to you. And I get to listen and watch what you're saying to me and learning about something that I have no familiarity with and then try to help you resolve a problem involving that issue. So I think judges do it by just immersing themselves in the issues and learning and trying to understand, with the help of the parties, what's at stake and what the issues mean.

But then there's a second component, which is the learning component in the law, and there are times that I worry about technology because of the information overload. It is, and I don't think that's a problem  just in the law, I think that's a problem generally. There's so much information and how to go through it and find that which is reliable is very, very difficult. I'm like most people, if I'm coining across something new or something that I want a quick study on, I go to Wikipedia. But you want to know something? I know Wikipedia is not a learned treatise, and yet there are some lawyers who have cited it in their briefs. That's scary. That's not scholarship, all right? And that's my greatest concern, not just for the law, but for society.

Judge Lungstrum: Can I follow up on that just slightly? What about the impact of social networking on the legal side of things? Tweeting or Facebook and so forth as that relates to the way in which judges, lawyers, and society interact in that context?

Justice Sotomayor: I'm a dinosaur, I haven't done any of that and I don't think any of my colleagues on the Supreme Court do. And I'm probably ahead of most of them in my use of-- I can only draft on the computer, I actually know how to navigate and surf the web, I can answer emails, which some of my colleagues can't. So it's not that I'm behind the times generally, but the social networking has not been a part of my development either as a lawyer or as a judge. Remember, it was only in 1985 that I went to my law firm, and my law firm was further ahead technologically than the DA's office was, where we' were still writing motions on a typewriter, okay? And I went to my law firm and they were still using cards to print legal briefs.

For the students here don't understand that the PC and even the ability to social network is not that old. It's a very recent phenomenon, we're still learning about the impact it's going to have on everything.

Judge Tacha: Justice, when I went to law school certainly, and even when you went to law school, it would have seemed very unlikely that either of us would be here in the capacity that we are. Many gains have been made in bringing diversity to all aspects of the economy and certainly to the bench. The students however are interested in your viewpoint about, to the extent that it's appropriate, about affirmative action and where we've come and where we might be, and sort of what effect that's had on society and on the courts in specific.

Justice Sotomayor: Affirmative action is a-buzzword that bristles with many people. People who have heard me use it in some speeches in the past in context have understood that I give it my meaning and not the meaning that creates the bad reactions in so many. In so many, affirmative action means quotas. And the definition of quotas is that you take unqualified people to fill a position and you bypass qualified people.

When I was growing up, it was the beginning of affirmative action, and at the time it had very different connotation. It was a connotation in the society that there were social structures that had been built around preconceived notions that excluded women and minorities from participating fully in the society. I'll give you an example of this and the lesson I understood from it. When I was a DA, you started out in the lower misdemeanor court handling petty crimes and you eventually moved up to try felonies. Bob Morgan at the time didn't move everybody up in a given year, he would move people up in waves. In the first group to be selected there were five bureaus with rookie DA's that were selected to move up first. Four were men and one was a woman, me.

Now, when I read that, the office was half women and I thought to myself, this is a little bit skewed and why is this skewed? Because I had watched the women, and to me they seemed to be performing as well as the men, and I kept thinking about it and I knew that the people that I worked
with weren't conscious1y sexist. So what was going on? And I realized after awhile that what it is is that if all you have is male supervisors who have been very successful in prosecuting, that their image of success by definition is going to be a male image. The people they're going to be most impressed by are people like them, and they might have a slightly more difficult time seeing that the quieter woman might be just as effective, but in a different way. And in fact that was the case because women were promoted, some of them eventually started trying as many high-profile cases as
men and many of them became supervisors over time.

So what did that teach me, or what's the lesson I took from that? It's the lesson that I took from affirmative action and the one that I understood from affirmative action as I understood it, which was that it was a conscious choice by society to understand that the norms of selection it had set up were influenced by a system that excluded others. By that I mean if all the people you hire are people who go to prep schools, and most minorities don't go to prep schools, you're not going o have any minorities in your school. So you have to sit down and say, what is it about prep schools? What do they teach and how? What is it about the students who go there and there ways in which they succeed? And translate and move out of the security of picking people from prep schools and say, I'm going to try other schools and see if they give me students of the same quality.

I went to one of those high schools, I went to a college-prep school in the Bronx, a Catholic school. But virtually nobody from my school had gone to an Ivy League school. The first was the friend who helped me get into Princeton. I followed him. And the doors to the Ivy Leagues looking at my high school as a feeder school opened. But that was because of affirmative action, because the school understood that its regular patterns had to be expanded. And that to me is what the real affirmative action, making people sensitive to why they're making choices, to be thinking more broadly about the criteria and how it can be applied in different settings.

So I think we've made a huge amount of gains in that area. But I do think we still have structural problems in the society that have to be addressed before we reach full equality. For me the most important of those is education. We can't 1ive in a society where the poorest children are the poorest educated. We just can't. That's a structural issue that has to be addressed by the society because in my own community, the Hispanic community as you know, we have the highest dropout rate of any other group than perhaps the Native Americans.

A lot of that can be tied to the reasons why we haven't reached an equality comparable to our presence in the population. We don't have enough college graduates, we don't have enough professionals competing for those jobs that are important in the society in terms of economic growth. So we've come very, very far, but we still have fundamental structural issues that we have to fix before we can reach equality. -

Mr. Unruh: Justice, what are the things you consider when deciding whether or not to grant certiorari in a case appealed to the Supreme Court?

Justice Sotomayor: Danny, every question you ask me about what I consider, understand that I'm still figuring it out. Last year -- and I tell this story freely --Justice Stevens circulated what I thought was an extraordinary tour de force opinion. It left my mouth open and I called him up to tell him I would join but requested some changes to the opinion, and said to him -- a little desperate -- that I can't do this. And he said to me, "Sonia, I've been on the court for forty years. What do you think like I was born a Justice?" He said, "You've got all the tools, each year you're here you'll grow." And that gave me so much comfort and so I'm thinking about all these issues. Right now I hew fairly closely to our rule about the cases one should take for certiorari and that's Supreme Court Rule 10, which basically has three or four different criteria for taking cert. The first and the most important is that there's a Circuit split. I have actually appreciated why that is. You need a Circuit split, you need two courts disagreeing with each other, or more than two courts to disagree with each other, to make sure that all of the best arguments on either side have been aired before the Supreme Court gets it. And the reason for that is that when the court takes a case it takes a case in a particular factual setting. And that setting will only highlight certain consequences of the court's decision. It's always helpful to have seen what's happening in the courts below in different factual settings so you feel some comfort that all the arguments on both sides have been raised and that you've seen enough how this issue affects different factual situations so that as you're deciding what the law means you understand the consequences of what you're doing fully. So I have understood the need for that.

The second criteria is that state courts and federal courts are disagreeing. Surprisingly that doesn't happen all that often in a pure form. State courts and Circuit courts seem to divide in equal numbers around issues, but the fact that an issue may affect state courts more than federal courts can be in some cases an important reason to take a case where the Circuits are split as opposed to where the states are split instead of where the Circuit is split.

There is a question about an important federal question that requires answering. That's where the Court's judgment is probably the most exercised, because virtually every question that comes to us is important, so what's important enough to come to us in the first instance is really the nub of the matter. And that's where I think the greatest learning by me is happening, because that's not as easy to define. And so those are the general criteria.

One lesson I've learned --this is probably less important to this group here than to a pure lawyer's group, Danny, is not every case presents a question cleanly. And by that I mean what we euphemistically call "vehicle problems". That there are cases that present the legal issue, but before you can reach that legal issue there's a lot of procedural questions or other questions embedded in the case that might stop you from reaching the question that's important. And so a lot of times it may be a terribly important case, abut it has a serious vehicle problem because we'll never get to the issue -- we might never get to the issue. So all of those factors go into us deciding when to take certiorari.

Judge Lungstrum: I believe I'm correct in saying that you are the first Justice in a long time to have served as a trial court judge as well as a Court of Appeals judge. Do you think that that has given you any different perspective or how has that, if at all, contributed to your perspective as a Supreme Court Justice?

Justice Sotomayor: I am probably -- not exclusively, but often -- more interested in Circuit procedural splits than my colleagues might be. Again, to the non-lawyers if I can explain that. I just said to you that there are substantive, meaty questions that are important that the Circuit splits around. But District Court judges and Circuit Court judges' work is guided by, cabined, and controlled by procedural rules which parties have to follow before a court can get to the merits of a question. Just as in all human endeavors there's difference in opinions, there are vast difference of opinions among judges below about the procedural rules.

The consequence of that is often to create more headaches for District Court judges, more headaches for Circuit Court judges on how to review things, and I think, or I see myself being much more sensitive to that than most of my colleagues on a daily basis. And I can't tell you that it makes a difference, but I think it's a voice in the room when we're talking about whether to take certain cases.

I haven't actually done the study myself, but I think you may see certain kinds of procedural questions that more have been heard and to the extent that my presence may have made a difference on the vote on those, I think it does have an impact on the conversation.

Judge Tacha: May I say on behalf of all of us that have to work with those every day, thank you very much. That's very important.

Justice Sotomayor: Some of my colleagues would say I don't like clear substantive rules, and that may be true sometimes because I also like giving the courts below a lot of flexibility on some things.

Judge Tacha: Well we thank you for that. Let's turn a little bit to your personal reactions to the Court. What surprised you the most and sort of the kind of unseen things that would surprise a new Justice about the court?

Justice Sotomayor: The thing that has surprised me the most that I did not anticipate was the burden I would feel in my decision making as a Supreme Court Justice. I had just really never thought about it. I'd been a judge for eighteen years and when I first came to the District Court one of my colleagues, who later became and is a very dear friend, came to see me.

We were talking about a judge that had left the court a little while before, and he said, "You know, this judge was paralyzed with decision making. He wasn't sleeping. He was a great lawyer, but he had to leave the bench because he just could not take the burden."

And my colleague said to me, "Sonia, we're human beings. The best we can do is to do our best in every case. To pay close attention to the parties, to hear them, and to give the best answer we have, or can do. But we can't live with regret. You have to move on to the next case and help the next set of parties. Just remember, there's a Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court to fix anything you do wrong."

Believe it or not, that gave me an enormous sense of security moving forward, and I always understood the responsibility of judging, but I understood what we meant about understanding that my responsibility was to decide the cases and let them go to the next court.

There's no next court now. And I had not anticipated how that would feel. I always paid very close attention to the work I did, but I find it heavier now in a way I had not thought about.

I had not clerked on the Supreme Court when I was a young lawyer so I didn't know what the building or the institution was like except all of those books on the Supreme Court that I had read that some of you may have read about. Some of the stories they tell don't really sound very nice.

As I was going through the process, one of my friends picked up "The Nine," which I had, and she called me up because she knew I had it by my bedside, she had visited me for a party. And she said, "Don't read the book, you'll never take the job."

I followed her advice; I was too busy to read the book. But I have been so pleasantly surprised by the collegiality among the justices. There's genuine affection among people and there's a genuine commitment to the institution, to the Court, to its history, to the work we do. It gets translated into everybody in our building who has any job in the building, you can feel their reverence for the court. Not necessarily for us as individual Justices, but for the court as an institution.

That really is a very special feeling when you go to work and you see that you're working among people who really revere what they're doing on every level. So those things -- one not as pleasant, the other more pleasant -- have been my biggest surprises.

Mr. Unruh: Last year Chief Justice John Roberts called the State of the Union address "a political pep-rally" and recently some have called for and participated in intermingled seating of Republicans and Democrats instead of the traditional partisan seating. Justice Sotomayor, what do you think about this proposal?

Justice Sotomayor: I'm not going to talk about the proposal, I'm going to talk about something else, but I think I'll make my point, okay?

One of my best friends is the defense attorney who tried her first criminal case against me and me my second criminal trial. She will tell you and tell her -- well she told her children for years when they asked who won the case, we would both respond, "We both won, we became friends," until they got old enough to ask who really won, but ... Now, we were both young prosecutors, she was passionate about her client, I was passionate that her client should be convicted. There wasn't an ounce of work that either of us forewent on behalf of the interests that we were representing. We fought civilly, but tooth-and-nail in the courtroom, and we walked out and admired each other enough to become friends.

To this day I can't tell you how many calls I get from her saying, "What's wrong with you judges?" She's still a criminal defense lawyer, okay? I'll look at her and we'll get into a huge fight about whatever.

I learned in the practice of law that having commitment and passion and morals and integrity and views and all of those things are important to every human being. That what helped me do my job better was that I understood that the people who opposed what I was doing possessed those same qualities. And I learned that if I learned to listen to them and respect that they were coming from the same place that I was but we were coming to different conclusions, that I could do my job better.

So every case I would put myself in the shoes of the defense attorney and try to figure out what they were thinking so I could anticipate my trial strategy. But I could only do that if I really respected what their roles were.

I think that there is not a conflict in disagreeing agreeably. I think people can do it. I think it helps us reach better solutions that way. Even when one party's views don't win out and the other's do, it's a dialogue with value, it enhances the discussion. And so, I was there at the State of the Union last year, I was there this year.

Personally, I loved seeing John McCain and (John) Kerry sitting next to each other. I did. And I saw people who I saw on different sides of the aisle during my hearing sitting next to each other. And it was much more pleasant for me. Other people may have different views, but I -- for the reasons I said I like agreeable disagreement.

Judge Lungstrum: Do we have time for another one? We're not quite sure when they're going to pull the plug on us. 111 give you one more.

Justice Sotomayor: I told Jackie I'd run over, but I don't want to bore people.

Judge Lungstrum: We're at their disposal here. One of the questions that was proposed here I think is very interesting, and you've touched on a bit of this, but as you see the interaction between social issues that face our country going forward and the role of the university in dealing with those, how do you see that role as far as addressing the most important social problems that you think our country faces?

Justice Sotomayor: I think that the role of universities is to take students out of their comfort zones and introduce them to new experiences and new ideas. Different from the ones they came with, challenging to the ones they hold, and teaching them in areas they know nothing about.

I'm a firm believer -- and it's advice I gave my niece and I will give my nephews when they're ready -- then my god-children -- to go to college, to every one of them I say: become a renaissance person in college.

Don't just take courses in one area; take courses in everything they offer. You want to grow up to be an informed citizen, so even if you're going to be a graphic artist, at least understand economic theory. Even if you want to be a doctor, take a law course it's not going to hurt you, it might even help you if you have a malpractice suit against you. I'm jesting about that, but I do think that the role of institutions is to find ways to take students out of their comfort zones and, expose them to more.

Judge Tacha: I know the Provost is going to wrap us up here, but I'd like to say a word to all of you gathered and to the Justice. We are so grateful that you came during among the busiest times in the term to be with us and I would be remiss if I did not say that she is here also on behalf of a commemoration you should all know about, which is it is the 150th anniversary of the Federal courts in Kansas.

It is no surprise and no accident that we will celebrate 150 years of statehood and 150 years of the Federal courts this weekend, because Kansas was the frontier of the rule of law at the time. And you may not know this: there were more Federal District courts in Kansas during a certain period of time than there were anywhere else back in those days, because of the forts that were out here on this frontier.

So as you thank the Justice for her appearance and her participation in an extremely important weekend for the State of Kansas, I hope you'll also reflect on your part in carrying that legacy forward of the rule of law on this frontier. Thank you to K-State.

Provost Mason: Judge Tacha, thank you for reminding us of a particularly important anniversary for our state. I think we do need to give Judge Lungstrum a little bye on his' very quick gaffe. Please note that both of our guests, who are KU graduates, are appropriately, dressed today. They said they came neutral, and in fact Judge Lungstrum indicated that he was wearing green in commemoration of the Konza, so I wanted to be sure to tell you that.

Judge Tacha: And I especially chose my Native American jewelry for this occasion.

Provost Mason: Justice Sotomayor, I think that your last comments of responding that bringing our students to places they don't know and having them learn new things and come out of their comfort zone is something that I particularly resonate with and I think that is something that Kansas State University takes very, very seriously and you are going to have the opportunity to meet a number of our students and I hope that they will ask you questions and learn from you.

On behalf of the University, I want to thank you so sincerely for making time in your schedule to come here and help all of us know much more about something critically important in our country, that being the Supreme Court.

We're delighted to add you to the list of many honored Landon speakers. Would you now join me in thanking Justice Sotomayor.