Too Far Away to Hear Debate and Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor

Commentary

by Pamela Tapia and Bonita Tindle

We were excited: we would see and hear the nation’s first Latina Supreme Court Justice live at Zellerbach. She was on the panel  judging the finals of the James Patterson McBaine Honors Moot Court Competition.

The place was packed — with many people turned away from the 2,000 seat auditorium. That morning, Sotomayor had paid a surprise visit to an elementary school in Berkeley.

But we were quickly disappointed. From our perch on the last balcony of Zellerbach Hall at UC Berkeley, we were too far away to actually hear the Moot Court debate or comments by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, whose questioning was superficial and low keyed.

What we saw (but had trouble hearing) was a lively hour-long debate between two Boalt students, Edward Piper and Thomas Frampton. They debated Busch v. Marple Newtown School District, a Pennsylvania case involving a kindergarten kid whose mother was barred from reading from the Bible at a show-and-tell day. The two students had written long briefs on the issue and in front of 2,000 spectators, they were interrupted often and answered questions from the judges, which included Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, California Supreme Court Justice Carol Corrigan and federal appeals Judge William Fletcher.

Although Frampton was declared the winner — by “a thin, thin slice,” Sotomayor said — Sotomayor praised both participants.

Since we were too far away, we had to READ her comments the next day: “I do moot courts because, every once in a while, I need an injection of hope,” she said. “And I see performances like the ones you gave today and I have so much hope. You were magnificent.”

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