Originally published in The Northern Light
Over 1,200 people gathered in the Dena’ina Center in downtown Anchorage on August 17 for a last minute presentation by Justice of the United States Supreme Court Sonia Sotomayor. Sotomayor was the first Puerto Rican judge to serve in any state, the first Latina to serve on the Supreme Court, the fourth woman to serve on the Supreme Court and is one of the youngest people to have ever served on the Supreme Court.
The Alaska Bar Association organized the event, allowing practicing attorneys to receive Continuing Legal Education (CLE) credits if they participated. Of the sold-out show, 40 percent of the 1,200 attendees were practicing attorneys.
Mary DeSpain, CLE director of the Alaska Bar Association introduced and welcomed Sotomayor with a traditional Spanish greeting — “la bienvenida a nuestra ciudad” — Welcome to our city.
The event was a Q&A, with Alaska resident Judge Morgan Christen of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
Questions were canvased and chosen before the event by the Alaska Bar Association. With questions from attorneys, the general public and children of the community.
Sotomayor revealed a vulnerable, human perspective in her poignant responses.
“I can’t imagine a better role model. I like how she talked about her human perspective with the importance of making decisions that affect everyone,” Johanna Richter, an economics student at UAA said.
Christen opened the talk with discussing Sotomayor’s book “My beloved World.” In the book, Sotomayor speaks about how she wanted to speak honestly about the experiences in her life — the good and the bad. Sotomayor discussed the hardships of being in the public eye and nearly turning down her Supreme Court nomination from the pressure of tabloids ruining a reputation she spent a lifetime creating.
“You get nominated for the Supreme Court and it’s like getting on a rocket ship to the moon, and it doesn’t take you back,” Sotomayor said in her discussion.
After a few questions from Christen, Sotomayor decided to leave the stage and walk among the crowd. Making her way through over 1,000 people she hugged, shook hands and signed autographs with the audience as she answered the rest of Christen’s questions.
A crowd favorite, a kid-canvased question submitted to the Alaska Bar Association asked Sotomayor what Harry Potter house she belonged to. Without skipping a beat, Sotomayor answered with Gryffindor, and further discussed her love affair with the book series.
When asked if diversity is important on the court, Sotomayor discussed the importance of life experiences as diversity in perspective and decision making.
“I don’t define diversity by gender, ethnicity or race,” Sotomayor said in her discussion.
Audience members ranged widely in age and profession. With members of the Youth court present, and small children with their parents, to Mayor Ethan Berkowitz and practicing attorneys, the crowd was diverse.
“I’m obsessed with her. I love everything about her, and any exposure i can get is great,” Madeline Parrish, age 16 said. “This is what I want to do.”
Sotomayor, who spoke in Fairbanks days before, is traveling around Alaska visiting over 12 communities around the state. Visiting Alaska has always been on Sotomayor’s bucket list, and it further helped her reach her goal of visiting all fifty states. When she got asked to speak at UAF, she decided to take the opportunity to see the sights throughout the state.