There are a lot of moments I’ve been humbled to have been able to experience in my time at NYU thus far. I’ve been fortunate enough to sit with my classmates in the chambers of the Honorable Sterling Johnson, Jr. of the Eastern District of New York; to have had dinner with the former Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs under President Clinton, Professor Sally Katzen; and, now, I can add to the list sitting and listening to a Supreme Court justice discuss the First Amendment with one of my former professors.
I don’t know quite how to describe what I imagined when I envisioned what a justice would look or sound like. There’s something mythological about them. Reading their opinions in casebook after casebook, I started to think of them as supreme deities sitting on their thrones, high up on Mount Olympus (a.k.a. DC). Indeed, I saw entry to the Supreme Court bench as a form of divine ascension. I know that this may seem childish to some, but I pictured these men and women to be superhuman figures of a stature comparable to that of giants.
When Sotomayor opened the program by looking over to Dean Morrison and jokingly quipping,”You’re working the students too hard,” this fantastical image was shattered in the best possible way. It came to my attention that the person sitting up on stage was not the mythical figure I imagined her to be. She was, instead, personable, funny, and of average size! In many ways, finding the human voice that spoke to the concerns Professor Neuborne had regarding the clause-specific textualist readings of the Bill of Rights was much more endearing than my preconceived notion.
There’s something so gratifying in knowing that the people who are writing the opinions that, at times, take hours for us to decipher are not any different from us, apart from possessing quite superior legal experience and wisdom. At one time, years ago, they were just like us: bewildered 1Ls stumbling through 19th-century common law and fumbling over modern conceptions of jurisdiction. Now, I do not wish to make far-fetched predictions about a future seat on the bench (nor would I deem myself in any way a qualified individual), but I think we can all find reassurance in knowing that these are not positions handed down through divine lineage, but through hard work, perseverance, and passion.