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Supreme Court Notebook: Sotomayor: Justice’s life isn’t all glamour

On Monday, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor received an Honorary Doctor of Laws during commencement at Yale University in New Haven, Conn. Among her messages to graduates of Yale Law School, where Justice Sotomayor received her law degree in 1979: A justice’s life isn’t all glamour. AP Images

WASHINGTON — Justice Sonia Sotomayor was the author of a unanimous decision delivered at the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday, but she was hundreds of miles from Washington when the court convened.

While her eight colleagues donned their black robes and took the bench to announce opinions, Justice Sotomayor was wearing Yale blue and receiving an honorary degree in New Haven, Conn.

Among her messages to graduates of Yale Law School, where Justice Sotomayor received her law degree in 1979: A justice’s life isn’t all glamour.

“Sometimes it gets boring. No justice is supposed to say that. But, you know, there’s drudgery in every job you’re going to do,” Justice Sotomayor told more than 200 graduates. Yale posted video of the law school graduation on its website.

Meanwhile, Chief Justice John Roberts read a summary of Justice Sotomayor’s opinion in a case involving attorney’s fees. So, point taken.

And who can blame her for finding her day job humdrum at times after the whirlwind she’s experienced in recent months?

The 58-year-old justice has traveled the country and conducted many interviews to promote her best-selling memoir, “My Beloved World.” The book has been on the New York Times’ nonfiction best-seller list for 15 weeks, including several at No. 1.

She was greeted by adoring crowds in her parents’ native Puerto Rico. She has appeared on CBS’ “60 Minutes,” bantered with Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart on Comedy Central, toured her old school with Oprah Winfrey and sat with the co-hosts on ABC’s “The View,” where some of them called her Sonia.

The larger point of Justice Sotomayor’s remarks at Yale was to tell the graduates they can learn in every job they do and urge them to take jobs about which they are passionate, even if they do not necessarily look great on a resume.

Although she did have a bit of bad news for the fledgling lawyers, their elite law school experience notwithstanding.

“No, not all of you can be on the Supreme Court. There are only nine seats and you’ve got the job forever,” she said.


Right about now, people start wondering when the high court will issue the term’s big rulings — gay marriage, voting rights and affirmative action this year.

Predicting how the court will decide cases and when, precisely, the decisions will come is notoriously difficult. But there is little doubt — actually none at all — that the high court will wind up its work sometime during the last week in June.

A quick look at the justices’ summer plans tells you all you need to know.

At least four justices have engagements the first week in July, thousands of miles from Washington. Leading the way in summer teaching gigs, Justice Roberts will be in Prague, in the Czech Republic, for a program led by the South Texas College of Law in Houston and the William Mitchell College of Law in Minneapolis. Justice Clarence Thomas is expected in Innsbruck, Austria, for St. Mary’s University law school in San Antonio.

Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan both have agreed to speak in Aspen, Colo.

And then, starting after July 4, Justice Kagan and Justice Anthony Kennedy are both teaching in Salzburg, Austria, for the University of the Pacific.

At some point early in July, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will alight in Paris to teach in Tulane University’s summer law program.

Justices can accept roughly $25,000 in additional income for teaching and speaking, beyond their salary of $213,900 a year. The chief justice earns about $10,000 a year more.

Summer law school classes can add $10,000 to $20,000 to their incomes and also subsidize the cost of family vacations in very desirable locations. The schools are delighted to land a Supreme Court justice.

Last year, Justice Roberts joked about heading to the “impregnable island fortress” of Malta, where he taught after he enraged conservatives with his vote to uphold President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul. Going to Malta “seemed like a good idea,” Roberts joked the day after the ruling.


If the court ever were to alter its practice of doling out opinions among all the justices and instead put them all in Justice Ginsburg’s hands, the term would be pretty close to over.

She’s fast. Her unanimous opinion Monday reinstating the murder conviction of former Michigan police officer Burt Lancaster (no relation to the actor) came out 26 days after the court heard arguments, the fastest turnaround this term.

Justice Roberts was a close second, writing another unanimous opinion in a patent case one month and four days after it was argued in January.

Whenever the justices all agree on something, it is much easier to get a decision in the books. But Justices Ginsburg, Roberts and even Justice Antonin Scalia stand apart from the others for their writing speed.

But when the justices are at loggerheads, months can pass without a decision.

The affirmative action case, Fisher v. University of Texas, was argued more than seven months ago, on Oct. 10.

Only the justices can say what’s taking so long. They will, eventually, in multiple opinions that are expected the day that case is decided — before the end of June.

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