Following The Beat at One First Street

October 26th, 2014

One of the themes that Joan Biskupic’s book highlights well is how the more senior Justices perceive the newest two members–Justices Sotomayor and Kagan. In lighthearted remarks at Yale Law School that veered into insight, Justices Thomas, Alito, and Sotomayor shed some light on how the Justices perceive the latter.

First, Justice Sotomayor explained that she was unable to keep a beat and dance, and started taking salsa lessons when she was 50. You may recall that at the end of her first term, she asked all of the Justices to dance salsa with her. This didn’t go over so well. But at the end of her remarks she had a very witty quip.

“I can’t keep a beat to save my life. I totally cannot keep a beat to save my life. But I have a facility that some of my colleagues find very strange. I can follow.”

Justice Thomas interjected, with his booming laughter, “That’s good.”

Justice Alito, with perhaps the best line of the night, said, “It’s a revelation to know that Sonia likes to follow. I think we are going to start dancing in the conference room.”

Second, Justice Alito was asked to describe traits he admires about Justice Sotomayor. Again, his answer in a whimsical fashion veered back to her strong views.

SA: These are traits i admire. Sonia is very independent. She is very, very, very thorough in her preparation, not only on the merits cases, but on the hundreds of cert petitions that we discuss every term. She is very strong in her views. She doesn’t give up on the rest of us. [CT is chuckling] Even when she sees we are going off, the majority is going off in the wrong direction, she throws up her hands up and says, “what can I do.” She has hope that she can convince us. She makes good arguments. Sometimes she succeeds.

Justice Sotomayor remarked, “I’ve been called incessantly optimistic.”

Again, with his booming laughter, Justice Thomas pipes up: “Goodness she never gives up.” Mimicking Sotomayor, he says, “Just relist that, I’m sure I can get one of you.” I can imagine that is a common occurrence at conference–and could be a contributing factor to the new relist policy.

Third, all of the Justices were asked what their greatest strengths and weaknesses were. Justice Sotomayor admitted that her greatest weakness was that she gets “oblivious” to the world around her during arguments. Though, she suggested that she is trying to get better.

When I’m involved in an argument I become oblivious to the world around me. And I’m just trained in on the person who I am engaging with. I am seeking an answer. To some it seems I am being combative when I really just searching for an answer. And that has held me in bad stead. And I think it still does. And I try harder as each year passes to correct some of that.

I’m working on a project that counts the number of times a Justice interrupts another Justice from 2010-2014. I may be able to provide metrics to the progress.

Finally, as a way to remind us that “race matters” (in case we didn’t get the picture from reading her Schuette dissent), Justice Sotomayor provides a hierarchy of Latin American dance skills.

SS: Among Hispanic men, the best dancers in terms of keeping a beat are Dominicans. The worst are Cubans because they take little steps.

CT: That’s profiling

SS: It is. But it proves itself right a lot. Cubans have these very tight little steps. I can never dance with a cubans. Puerto Ricans I can dance with too.

CT: You are going to be in trouble with the Cubans.

SS: I know.

You see, race does matter! Though any effort to rearrange dance cards in the middle of a party may run afoul of the political process theory.

(All of these are my own transcriptions–there was no transcript I could find–so all errors are my own).