March 11, 2014

Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor visits campus

By Michael K. Young

Sotomayor campus visit

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor poses for a picture with Provost Ana Mari Cauce, President Michael Young and Vice Provost Ed Taylor.


Since its inception 225 years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court’s role remains vital to our founding fathers’ vision of a tri-partite and balanced (as in ‘checked’) government—of the people, by the people and for the people. The justices who have been appointed and confirmed by the other two branches of government over the past two centuries stand as testaments to the wisdom and steadfastness of the original conception of the court.

Yesterday, the University of Washington was delighted to host the Honorable Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. We were honored to have her here.

As a younger man fresh out of law school, I had the privilege to serve as a clerk for William Rehnquist when he was an Associate Justice, and I had a front-row view of the remarkable workings of the Court. Every single time the Court issues a ruling, the justices set, affirm, or challenge the trajectory of America, and in turn, their decisions impact the world. Being one of the nine places an enormous burden on the individual members of the Court.

Justice Sotomayor’s story is an inspiration to all of us. When named to the Court in 2009, she became only the third woman in its history and the first of Hispanic origin. Sotomayor’s personal story is the focus of her book, My Beloved World, which was released in 2013 and offers an openness uncommon for a sitting justice.

One of Justice Sotomayor’s remarkable abilities is to communicate about the law and the Court’s decisions in ways that make both accessible to a wide range of audiences, from the scholarly legal community to undergraduate students to preschoolers. Yes, preschoolers: She twice appeared on Sesame Street in 2012, including this appearance about the Supreme Court.

To enrich the UW with Justice Sotomayor’s visit, Undergraduate Academic Affairs facilitated the development of seminars and book groups around campus. The School of Law, the Evans School of Public Affairs, and the departments of Political Science and Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies offered courses, seminars and reading groups, each grounded in a reading from Justice Sotomayor’s memoir. In addition, several hundred undergraduates received a free copy of My Beloved World so that they could read the story of this remarkable woman.

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