A Special Kate Stoneman Event

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor

United States Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor was presented with Albany Law School’s Kate Stoneman Award on Monday, April 3, following a wide-ranging, thoughtful, and at times humorous conversation with students in front of the law school community.


Justice Sotomayor said she was honored to receive the award named for Katherine “Kate” Stoneman, the first woman admitted to the bar in New York State and Albany Law’s first female graduate, Class of 1898. The Stoneman Award is presented annually by the law school to people in the legal profession who have demonstrated a commitment to seeking change and equal opportunities for women.

“Kate Stoneman’s footsteps are ones I did follow in,” said Justice Sotomayor, a native of New York City’s Bronx borough. “But my footsteps are not ones I want you to follow. I want you to make your own along with me.”

Several former Stoneman award winners in the crowd stood to be recognized. Justice Sotomayor was also presented with an official Albany Law School basketball.

Sotomayor Stoneman Program

The Honorable Sonia Sotomayor Program

Justice Sotomayor advised students on assertiveness, understanding, and ethics. One recurring theme was the importance of passion and empathy—both on the bench and for the roles that lawyers play in our society.

"Unchecked anger is self-indulgent,” she said. “What gets people to listen to you is your passion about an issue, not your anger.”

The discussion was moderated by Albany Law President & Dean Alicia Ouellette and Government Law Center Director Andrew Ayers, who clerked for the justice during her term on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. The Stoneman Award was presented by Professor Mary A. Lynch, the Kate Stoneman Chair in Law and Democracy, and Professor Melissa Breger.

Also during her visit, Justice Sotomayor met privately with student leaders and spent time with the faculty. She spoke briefly with a crowd in the gymnasium—where the event was being simulcast—before beginning the formal program in the moot courtroom.

Justice Sotomayor also headlined the University at Albany’s Speaker Series on April 4 at SEFCU Arena, where she discussed her memoir which recounts her inspiring journey to the federal bench. She also visited Sage College in Troy.

Justice Sotomayor is the third woman and the first Latina to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. She was appointed to the position by President Barack Obama in August 2009. Born in Bronx, N.Y., on June 25, 1954, she graduated summa cum laude from Princeton University. In 1979, she earned a J.D. from Yale Law School, where she was an editor of the Yale Law Journal. She served as Assistant District Attorney in the New York County District Attorney's Office from 1979–1984. She then litigated international commercial matters in New York City at Pavia & Harcourt, where she served as an associate and then partner from 1984–1992. In 1991, President George H.W. Bush nominated her to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, and she served in that role from 1992to 1998. She served as a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit from 1998 to 2009. President Barack Obama nominated her as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court on May 26, 2009, and she assumed that role on August 8, 2009.

Gallery: U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor: Albany Law School Panel Discussion

United States Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor visited Albany Law School on Monday, April 3, 2017. She met privately with students, spend time with the faculty, and addressed the law school community. Justice Sotomayor received the law school’s Kate Stoneman Award, presented annually by the law school to people in the legal profession who have demonstrated a commitment to seeking change and equal opportunities for women.

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Images are copyright 2017 Albany Law School, and may not be published or reposted without permission.

Read Student Experiences of Justice Sotomayor's Visit

    Stephanie Minerly

    Stephanie Minerly

    Justice Sotomayor talked about being the voice of explanation, rather than the voice of emotion, in her opinions because the cases were real life -- affecting real people -- and not just fiction. However, as I sat in the audience, almost close enough to touch her, I felt nothing but overwhelming emotion. She weaved throughout the room, making each answer to each question a personal conversation with the audience members.

    She relayed a story about when she was first nominated and one of the quotes that stuck with me the most was, “No one is born a justice, you are born a human, you grow into being a justice, you have all the tools.” I felt goosebumps rise on my arms as I thought to myself that I am being given some of those tools right now, during my journey though Albany Law School.

    One of the things that really struck a chord with me was her stressing that it was important to look at both sides of the issues, to note that there will always be an injured party and to address that in our decisions. She reminded us that we wanted people with opposing views on the court so that a dialogue could be created and the proper decision reached. It was an important reminder, in an age of such contention between political parties, about what we strive for in an adversarial system. Overall, it reaffirmed the professionalism of the legal system and made me proud of my chosen path, and my chosen law school.

    Finally, she talked about how she sometimes stares while considering someone’s opinion because she is thinking and considering the words in depth. I know that I will soon be practicing my Justice Sotomayor stare. I am really grateful to the law school for providing me the opportunity to find my new hero.

    Rachel Bernzweig

    Rachel Bernzweig

    Hearing Justice Sotomayor speak was something I will never forget. With her natural grace and charm, the Justice has a presence that you can’t help but adore. Justice Sotomayor eloquently showed us that she is human, just like all of us. The Justice shared stories of her family and her experiences as a student, as a judge on various lower courts and, of course, as a Supreme Court Justice. Her openness and interaction with the audience gave us all the opportunity to connect with her. I loved that she wandered the room to give hugs and shake hands.

    My favorite part of the event stems from one of the student questions. The Justice spoke about the impact that our words can have. If we want to see change in the world and change in the way others think, we need to keep the conversation going. Further, the Justice advised, “What gets people to listen to you is your passion, not your anger.” That advice really resonated with me because I often find myself advocating to people who are different minded than I am. The question described situations where the student had to describe and prove to others that gender and racial biases still existed. The frustration that comes with that is something I really understand. But instead of getting angry, I will follow the wise advise of Justice Sotomayor and just keep talking. The more we take about and get educated about the important issues, the more likely we will be able to spark change.

    I left the event feeling empowered and inspired. I cannot think of a more fitting person for the Kate Stoneman Award. As a woman, I feel proud and honored to be able to look up to strong, brilliant and resilient women like Justice Sotomayor who have worked tirelessly to create equal opportunities for women.

    James Bartosik

    James Bartosik

    Justice Sotomayor said something to the effect that "the court's opinions are real, they have a profound ability to impact the lives of real people" and that she always tries to remember that there are winners and losers.

    Justice Sotomayor seemed like a very real and down-to-earth person. I truly enjoyed the stories she told about her family and the surrealness of being chosen for the highest court in the United States. I so often look at the Supreme Court as abstract, one-dimensional figures who provide our country with the highest law. Getting to see this side of Justice Sotomayor provided a great opportunity to see how she approaches the law taking into account her family, her history, and her biases.

    Her talk preached respect in the midst of disagreement and gave a great insight as to her relationships with the other Supreme Court justices. She acknowledged that she often disagrees on legal principles with her colleagues, but respects their opinions and works with them to find common ground. Her brief comments on this seemed like amazing advice that we should all take with us in our legal careers every day when working with in our legal adversaries.

    The best thing about this talk was her emphasis on the public, how real people are so profoundly impacted by their decisions. She feels that it is not only her duty to provide the appropriate direction for the advancement of law, but also to explain why the legal position taken by the loser is inaccurate. Although law students tend to focus on the broader impacts of law, It seems that she considers the entire spectrum of the legal effects of her decisions before she makes them, which is reassuring and inspires confidence in the Court's rulings.

    Kayla Champagne

    Kayla Champagne

    When Justice Sotomayor walked into the room her presence was felt. Her demeanor is one-of-a-kind; she is extremely personable despite her prestigious position on The Supreme Court. When she talked about her insecurities and the times where her family was embarrassing, this gave us the feeling of hope that we could someday live to become as successful as she is.

    In her talk, there were many life lessons that I hope to be able to translate into my life.

    Justice Stevens told her no one is ever born a Justice, you are born a person, and you grow into becoming a justice. This goes to show that she too has had insecurities, but she has become successful by overcoming her insecurities and working hard.

    Justice Sotomayor said that we should look at the reasons for conclusions and we should always understand the process of getting to a conclusion even if it is different. I think this is an important lesson for many people, especially today, when talking about politics. Emotions oftentimes are the reason behind a political conversation and if the discussion can be turned to focus on the reasoning behind an opinion or emotion, conversations can become much more productive and eye opening. Justice Sotomayor emphasized that we should know the strengths and weaknesses to both our own position and our adversaries. She said that being able to know the reasoning behind a conclusion shows human understanding and respect for an adverse position.

    She stressed that your family should be a part of you and where you go. When you open up and talk to your family about the good and the bad, that shows your deep appreciation for them.

    When graduating law school, everyone should be passionate about becoming a lawyer. When someone asks why you became a lawyer or questions what lawyers are for, Justice Sotomayor gave a perfect response. She said that we should respond by telling them all of the great accomplishments of lawyers and that every lawyer is defending someone’s rights.

    Justice Sotomayor is a one of the best role models anyone could have. She is humble, kind and, most importantly, genuinely cares for other people. She is truly dedicated to giving everyone hope in succeeding their goals. Her speech was awe-inspiring and I hope that someday in the future our paths cross again.

    Never stop talking because that is when there would be no chance for change.

    These are just some of the topics Justice Sotomayor talked about that I hope to instill in my life.

    Bradley Murray

    Bradley Murray

    Having Justice Sotomayor at Albany Law has been one of the highlights of my law school experience so far. As an awe-inspiring jurist, Justice Sotomayor is famous for bringing a flavor of her personal life experiences into her writing, and I was delighted that she did the same in her talk with us. I especially enjoyed her consistent testimonial to her family, from stories of navigating family pride to catching her Aunt sneaking White House soaps and plastic cups. My own family is a constant source of strength in my life, so it was comforting to hear similar sentiments from a Justice on the nation’s highest court.

    Something else that has really stuck with me was the Justice’s revelation that while she may have profound legal disagreements with her colleagues on the Court, they are still able to remain a close, tight-knit group because they recognize the amount of passion and experience each one brings to the legal analysis. As future lawyers who will undoubtedly find ourselves in adversarial roles throughout our careers, this is an important thing for law students to hear. While one can adamantly disagree with opposing counsel’s interpretation of the law, it is also important to be able to take a step back and see how they are reaching this conclusion. Not only will we be able to better argue our own positions, but it will also foster a more cordial professional relationship.

    I am grateful that Albany Law was able to secure Justice Sotomayor’s visit—a truly historic day—and I will keep her stories and advice in my mind throughout my legal career.

    Allison Bartlett

    Allison Bartlett

    Justice Sotomayor’s visit to Albany Law School was an event that I will never forget. Every single seat in the Dean Alexander Moot Court room was filled, and even so, Justice Sotomayor’s demeanor and interaction with the audience made the crowded room feel like an intimate setting. She was humble and down to earth, posing for photographs with students who prepared questions, and staying over her scheduled time in order to give more students the opportunity to ask their questions. It meant so much to have such a strong role model come to the school and share stories about her life and how she got to where she is today. I appreciated all of the stories about her family, and how they have been by her side through every career milestone. Her visit and discussion brought me back to why I came to law school in the first place, and how proud we all should be about our education and the role it will allow us to play in our communities.

    One of my favorite parts of Justice Sotomayor’s discussion was the importance of being confident and assertive. She provided thoughtful advice on how to move forward when you are not seeing eye to eye with someone, and how to stand your ground without being overly aggressive. Justice Sotomayor emphasized the need to always respect your adversary’s position, and to listen to what is motivating them. By identifying and acknowledging what is important to another, you can move the conversation in a positive direction toward finding a solution. Along these lines, she stated that it is an individual’s passion that gets others to listen to an issue, rather than anger about an issue. She went on to say that anger does not play a role in any process. Those words certainly ring true and will stick with me throughout my career.

    I am incredibly honored to have been able to attend this event. I have no doubt that twenty years from now I will look back on the evening as one of the best memories of my time at Albany Law School.

    Liangyu Fu

    Liangyu Fu

    Justice Sotomayor's talk was not only exceptionally inspirational and witty, but also filled with passion and wisdom towards both the law and life. Learning the anecdotes between Justice Sotomayor and her family members, I have realized how much immigrant families share in common, despite different backgrounds and upbringings.

    Justice Sotomayor's outspoken and candid personality reminds us that she was once too just like us, grappling with challenges in career and conquering obstacles in life. She inspired me to project my voice with strength, listen to others with sincerity, and embrace my identity with open arms. I could not thank the Albany Law School community enough for making this amazing event possible.

    Images are copyright 2017 Albany Law School, and may not be published or reposted without permission.