Sotomayor: “I believe in forced labor”

May 18th, 2016

Justice Sotomayor used what were probably not the most-judicious words to endorse mandatory pro bono service for law students who are applying for the Bar.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor said Monday that all lawyers should be required to provide pro bono legal services.

“I believe in forced labor” when it comes to improving access to justice for the poor, she said during an appearance at the American Law Institute’s annual meeting in Washington. “If I had my way, I would make pro bono service a requirement.”

Sotomayor made the comment in response to a question from institute director Richard Revesz about the dearth of legal services for low-income individuals.

The justice said she was aware of programs—like New York state’s—that make pro bono work a requirement for admission to the bar. She also acknowledged that some critics say lawyers who are compelled to work for free “may not give their best effort” to the task.

But professional and ethical duties require it, Sotomayor insisted. “It has to become part of their being,” she said.

Justice Stevens gave a speech to the ALI on Tuesday, but it is still not yet posted on the Supreme Court’s site.