Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, a judge known for her acerbic opinions and intense questioning at oral arguments, will speak to Cornellians at a “fireside chat” on Oct. 18 in Bailey Hall at noon.
Sotomayor, 64, the first Latina justice, will be joined by retired judge Richard C. Wesley J.D. ’74, her former colleague on the Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, for a conversation moderated by Cornell Law School Dean Eduardo Peñalver ’94.
Wesley was appointed to the court of appeals by President George W. Bush in 2003 but supported President Barack Obama’s decision to nominate Sotomayor to the nation’s highest court, saying in 2009 that “it is both a pleasure and an honor to serve with her.”
The event will be open to the “Cornell community,” the University said. Those wishing to see the justice speak must wait until Oct. 4 to pick up free tickets with a Cornell ID at the Willard Straight Hall Resource Center. The resource center is open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Mondays and Tuesdays and from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. from Wednesday through Saturday. It is closed on Sundays and will be closed for fall break from Oct. 5 and 9.
The last time Cornellians had the opportunity to see a Supreme Court justice on campus was over four years ago, when Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg ’54 spoke to a crowd of more than 400 people in September 2014. Unlike Ginsburg’s event, Sotomayor’s will not be recorded or live-streamed.
Sotomayor, a former prosecutor, is associated with the liberal wing of the Supreme Court and has emerged as one of its fiercest dissenters. One of the most recent examples is her dissent against the court’s decision in Trump v. Hawaii, in which the majority ruled that President Donald Trump was within his authority when he enacted the travel ban.
Noting parallels between the ban and the U.S. internment of Japanese and Japanese-Americans during World War II, Sotomayor accused the majority of “turning a blind eye to the pain and suffering the [travel ban] inflicts upon countless families and individuals, many of whom are United States citizens.”
Sotomayor has also emerged as a defender of affirmative action — once calling herself an “affirmative action baby” — and a skeptic of police power. She has chastised the court for “sanctioning a ‘shoot first, think later’ approach to policing” and has often accused court majorities of having too low a standard for what they consider reasonable police conduct.
Sotomayor has also waged a quiet and yet-unsuccessful campaign to encourage the court to hear more cases challenging methods of administering the death penalty. Last month, she argued that the court should hear a case from a death row inmate — a convicted rapist — whom Tennessee planned to execute with a method that, Sotomayor wrote, risked leaving the inmate vulnerable to excruciating pain.
It “may well be the chemical equivalent of being burned at the stake,” Sotomayor wrote, citing her own words from an earlier opinion.
Sotomayor, born and raised in the Bronx, did, however, decline in 2015 to take up Justice Stephen Breyer’s call for the court to accept a case on whether the death penalty itself violates the Constitution.
Her visit to Cornell follows numerous other college visits for Sotomayor, who studied at Princeton University and then Yale Law School. Sotomayor has spoken in recent years at Stanford, Brown, Clemson, Rutgers and University of California, Berkeley, among others.
Sotomayor’s visit will take place in the third week of the court’s October 2018 term. No one knows if all seats on the court will be occupied by then — Judge Brett Kavanaugh has been nominated to the ninth spot — but those in Bailey Hall almost certainly will be.