MINNEAPOLIS (KMSP) - Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor delivered her Stein Lecture on Monday at Northrop Auditorium at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. The lecture is named after its founder, U of M professor Robert Stein, who was dean of the Law School for 15 years.
During her lecture, she touched on topics including what it means to be the third woman - not to mention woman of color – and the first Latina on the bench of the U.S. Supreme Court.
“What did it mean to me?” she asked. “Hope.”
As she shook a little girl’s hand, Sotomayor spoke on Sandra Day O’Conner’s appointment to the court.
“Not about being a Supreme Court Justice,” she said, “but about having a career where I could aspire to become anything I wanted, just like you can.”
Sotomayor spoke to a crowd of about 2,700 people. Past Stein Lecture speakers have included Vice President Walter Mondale, Justice Clarence Thomas, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the late Justice Antonin Scalia.
“She sees herself in the position of every person sitting in those seats,” said David Aaron, a lawyer. “She shook the hand of my friend’s daughter who’s 8 years old and said ‘you can be here, too,’ […] That was great.”
Nominated by President Obama in 2009, the Puerto-Rican Brox native became the first Latina Supreme Court Justice.
“Being part Latina, it’s always refreshing to see someone of Latina descent,” said Lauren Yates, a lawyer.
Mitchell Hamline Law student Juventino Meza said “she’s really, truly the people’s Justice and I really admire her for that.”
Additionally, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said the event “exceeded” his expectations.
“It’s extraordinary, how [she] can walk around and shake hands with people and be that articulate. Boom. Beautiful,” he said.
Sotomayor’s stop is also a reminder that the upcoming election could alter the face of our Supreme Court.
“We need a full court, and she made it clear and that’ll happen,” David Aaron said.
After the death of Justice Scalia, the high court is in an unprecedented 4-4 deadlock, which mean that this time, it’s just as much about the candidates and their policies as it is about the fact that one of them could be nominating two or three judges.
Lauren Yates said that a vote “always matters, and I think what she said at the end is very important. You vote’ em in, you vote ‘em out, and if we don’t vote - especially people of color - don’t expect to have representation on a national level.”
“Our court could look very different depending on who our president is,” Aaron said.