Sotomayor to Chicago law students: Chill out

January 31, 2011 7:18:06 PM PST
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor's advice to law students boils down to a simple concept: Chill out more.

Sotomayor shared tips and personal stories Monday at the University of Chicago Law School during an unusually candid and unscripted appearance where students and faculty were allowed to freely question a member of the nation's highest court.

When students asked how to better their chances for a Supreme Court clerkship, Sotomayor told them impressive qualifications weren't enough.

"I want a passion. I don't look at the kid who has 1,000 things on their resume," she said. "Do you ever just stop and breathe? Do you ever go to a movie?"

She said her favorite memories from Yale Law School were sitting with classmates over coffee and soda while discussing daily events and classes. But her fear is that people today, especially students, are on information overload and don't unplug.

"It's hard to order importance when there's so much coming in," she said.

Sotomayor also answered questions about her tenure on the Supreme Court, the weight she places on written brief and oral arguments when making a decision, and changes for her since 2009 when she was sworn in.

Sotomayor said becoming a justice has "destroyed any sense of anonymity." She said in era when cell phone cameras are abundant, running across the street in sweats to her neighborhood coffee shop is no longer an option.

The nation's first Hispanic justice -- whose 2001 comments suggesting a "wise Latina" might reach better decisions than a white man made waves during her confirmation hearings -- said she believes her tenure has already given people of color a sense of belonging with the court.

Sotomayor said even though there has been a "tremendous uptick" in the number of Spanish speakers and immigrants visiting the Marble Palace, she is "committed to the rule of law" and does not make decisions based on being a woman of color.

"People have views of me and expectations of me that based on stereotypes," she said. "That's part of the norm of our society."

Sotomayor spoke last week at Kansas State University, where questions were screened in advance. She was scheduled to address Northwestern University Tuesday, but the event was cancelled because of severe weather forecasts.