ATLANTA (AP) — It's important for people to get involved and participate in the lawmaking process by lobbying for changes they want to see, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor said Tuesday in Atlanta.
Sotomayor, 63, spoke at Emory University School of Law, answering questions from one of her former law clerks, Emory constitutional law professor Fred Smith, and questions submitted in advance by law students.
"Laws are made by people. They're made by people for themselves," she said. "The people who promote laws are the people who believe that this law will further what they think is in their better interest."
Because of that, she said, citizens have an obligation to participate in the process by lobbying for the issues that are important to them.
People also need to find causes they're passionate about and get involved, she said, citing her own involvement with iCivics, an education nonprofit started by former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, that uses digital games to help restore civic education in schools.
"I believe with all my heart that unless we become engaged in our country and become active participants in making a difference in the world we're in, that we will be nothing but bystanders otherwise, and nobody should live their life being a bystander," she said.
Sotomayor, who said she's never liked to sit still, wandered the aisles of the packed church auditorium as she answered questions, leaving Smith sitting alone at the front. She connected easily with the audience, making eye contact as she spoke and sometimes touching an audience member's arm. Her tone was conversational and laced with humor.
She grew up in what she called an unsafe neighborhood in the Bronx and went on to excel at Princeton University and Yale Law School before embarking on a career as a lawyer and judge and becoming the first Latina Supreme Court justice in August 2009 after being nominated by President Barack Obama. She has frequently talked about feeling like an outsider — even at the Supreme Court.
When asked how she deals with that feeling, she said it's important to find strength in things that bring comfort, like ethnicity or culture, and to use them as an anchor in unfamiliar settings but not to let them serve as a barrier to learning from new people.
"You have to get to know the people around you," she said. "They're learning from you. You have to learn from them."