On October 13, in a virtual conversation, US Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor talked with Kenji Yoshino, Chief Justice Earl Warren Professor of Constitutional Law, about how issues of diversity and inclusion have affected her life and career. The event celebrated the fifth anniversary of NYU Law’s Center for Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging, where Yoshino serves as faculty director.
During their wide-ranging discussion, Yoshino and Sotomayor considered the lack of professional and regional diversity on the Supreme Court, and discussed the practical implications of the justices’ gender distribution: three women and six men. Sotomayor referenced a 2017 study by Northwestern University Pritzer School of Law professor Tonja Jacobi and then-student Dylan Schweers that found female justices are interrupted much more than their male counterparts, regardless of other factors, like seniority. “After reports of that finding came out,” Sotomayor said, “our chief judge was much more sensitive…when interruptions happened and ensuring that people got back to the judge who was interrupted.” She called the impact of the study on the Court “enormous.”
“That’s a dynamic that exists not just on the Court but in our society in general” that means women’s ideas are often attributed to their louder, male colleagues, Sotomayor said. “Most of the time, women say things, and they’re not heard in the same way that men might [be, who] say the identical thing,” she said.
Sotomayor and Yoshino also discussed how she has prioritized diversity in hiring clerks and choosing audiences for speaking engagements. Her aim, she says, is make certain that all members of society have a voice and are included in important conversations about laws and our shared rights.
“I have to concentrate…on ensuring that what I do today is meaningful and important,” said Sotomayor in her closing remarks. “I truly believe that the law is such an important part of our relationship as people. It guides those relationships. It helps us share limited resources. It helps define the boundaries of what we do with each other or can’t do with each other, and in every aspect of our life laws play a role,” she said. “I’m passionate about the law as an important part in our society’s relationships.”
Watch video of their discussion:
Posted October 26, 2021.