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Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor says confirmation process is useless.
Sotomayor at ASU: Diversity on high court is key, but not just ethnic or racial.
January 23, 2017

Supreme Court judge says good high-court nominees would never predict how they would rule ahead of time on a given case

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor said the confirmation process for high-court nominees is essentially useless because the public wants to know how a candidate would rule — something she told a crowd at Arizona State University that no good judge would predict.

“What you want is for us to tell you how as a judicial nominee we’re going to rule on the important issues you find vexing,” she told the audience at ASU Gammage on Monday night.

“Any self-respecting judge who comes in with an agenda that would permit that judge to tell you how they will vote is the kind of person you don’t want as a judge,” she said.

Sotomayor’s wide-ranging talk was the 18th annual John P. Frank Memorial Lecture, presented by the School of Social Transformation at ASU.

Sotomayor said that instead, lawmakers should consider a candidate’s character.

“Do they treat others with respect and dignity? Find out whether they have ruled in ways in which they expressed a difference with their personal feelings, because a judge who can’t point to a decision that’s different from how they personally feel is not a judge who’s following the rule of law,” she said.

The country will likely face a confirmation hearing this year, as there has been a vacancy on the nine-member court since February, when Antonin Scalia died. The opportunity to fill the open spot — and potentially influence decisions on landmark issues such as abortion — was a focus of the bitter presidential campaign.

Sotomayor has been on the Supreme Court since 2009. The first Hispanic justice, she was nominated by President Barack Obama and is considered a member of the liberal bloc of the court when the justices divide along ideological lines. In June 2012, Sotomayor was part of the 5–3 majority in Arizona v. United States that struck down several aspects of the SB 1070 anti-illegal immigration law.

She acknowledged the divisiveness in the country now and believes that civic engagement is the solution. She praised the civic-education initiative founded by former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, iCivics.

“I am an American — with a Latina heart. I bleed red, white and blue. Despite the amount of love we have for America, many people don’t have a full understanding of what makes America great: We are the envy of the world because of our system of government,” she said.

“Unless we get close to 100 percent of our country voting, we’re really not going to be a democracy.”

Sonia Sotomayor
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor meets with a group of students and faculty Monday, before delivering the 18th John P. Frank Memorial Lecture. She talked to the group about the court cases that had the most impact on her, Brown v. Board of Education and Marbury v. Madison. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

She said that diversity on the Supreme Court would be positive, but not just racial or ethnic diversity.

“We have no criminal defense attorney on the court,” she said. “We have only one civil rights lawyer — Ruth Bader Ginsburg.”

“Most of the practice of law in this country is done by solo lawyers or small firms,” she said, but only two justices have experience with that type of law, and none is experienced in environmental or education law.

“That’s the diversity that concerns me the most.”

Sotomayor acknowledged that the court has taken on fewer cases than in previous years — 76 last term compared with 130 in 1990.

“We’re not avoiding taking cases,” she said. But the justices are more interested in quality over quantity.

“If you examine the quality of those opinions in some earlier years, you will see that there is a lot lacking. For the law professors here, pick a couple of those opinions, and you will be struck by the lack of depth in the analysis and the conclusions that were reached.”

Halfway through her talk, Sotomayor walked off the stage and started walking among the rows of people, hugging children, posing for photos and shaking dozens of hands — all the while continuing to answer questions.

She acknowledged that the negative comments she faced during her own confirmation hearing were hurtful.

“Vice President Joe Biden heard that I was little sad, and he came down and gave me a hug,” she said. He told her that the number of times a person is knocked down is not the measure of his or her character; rather, it’s the number of times the person gets back up.

“I realized when he said that, that it was the story of my life,” she said.

Sotomayor wrote a best-selling memoir in 2013 called “My Beloved World,” in which she described her difficult childhood, growing up in a public housing project in the Bronx (which later was renamed for her). She got accepted to Princeton and was devastated at getting a C on her first paper. The professor told her she wasn’t writing in a grammatically correct style.

So that summer, she bought grammar and vocabulary books, learning five new words a day. She also sought out a writing mentor.

“I think we all believe that our flaws are things we can’t help,” she said. “But there’s nothing you become good at without working at it, and that’s especially true for people who come from backgrounds like my own, where poverty keeps you from being exposed to the bigger world.

“But you’re not stuck. You have an opportunity to grow. Along the way, I always asked for help. I’m never ashamed to ask.”

John P. Frank, who died in 2002, was an Arizona civil rights lawyer and constitutional scholar who helped shape the argument in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case and was part of the team that represented Ernesto Miranda before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1966. The lecture is the annual signature event of the Justice and Social Inquiry faculty in the School of Social Transformation, which is part of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at ASU. The event is supported by the John P. Frank Memorial Lecture Endowment, thanks to donations by Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie LLP as well as Frank’s family, colleagues and friends.


Top photo: U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor addresses a full ASU Gammage auditorium on Monday in Tempe. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now 

Mary Beth Faller

reporter , ASU Now


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New ASU online school integrates high school, university courses

New ASU Prep online school will integrate high school, university courses.
January 24, 2017

ASU Prep Digital to offer Cambridge curriculum, accelerated degree path to remove barriers to higher education

Arizona State University is bridging the divide between high school and college with the new ASU Prep Digital High School, which will allow students to learn at their own pace and potentially accelerate the time it takes to earn a degree.

“This is truly a unique model that integrates high school through university, which is not something that currently exist in in the online space,” said Beatriz Rendon, vice president of Educational Outreach and CEO of ASU Preparatory Academies.

“It will be high engagement, and content will be adapted based on the pace of the learner.

“A lot of what’s out there in the online space is credit recovery, not college-going,” Rendon added. “The integration is the innovation in this model.”

The online school will join the network of ASU Prep charters, which include campuses in Casa Grande, Mesa and downtown Phoenix, with more than 2,000 total students.

Students can enroll in ASU Prep Digital High School full or part time, but the school also plans to partner with existing schools to fill in gaps — for example, providing advanced math or science classes that some schools can’t offer. In this way, ASU Prep Digital will be able to help more students become college-eligible.

The school will use the Cambridge International Curriculum, a rigorous and popular qualification system around the world. Students can achieve the Cambridge International General Certificate Secondary Education, potentially earning college credit based on their exam performance. ASU Prep Digital students can take Spanish, Latin or Mandarin. Students who are prepared can take ASU Online courses, including Human Origins or astronomy, to earn credit. Each student will be assigned a learning success coach and can participate in ASU experiences.

Julie Young
Julie Young is the deputy vice president and CEO of the new ASU Prep Digital High School.

The goal is to get students ready for their next step, according to Julie Young, the newly named deputy vice president and CEO of ASU Prep Digital High School.

“One of the things we’re most excited about is there’s such a focus on the opportunity to really prepare students in a very specific way for college and career,” she said.

Young has been involved with digital education since 1996, when access to the internet was via dial-up. She was the founding president and CEO of Florida Virtual Schools, which was the first online school district in that state.

“Initially, there was not a market for virtual education,” she said. “We had to convince parents, teachers and schools that this could be a high-quality way for a student to learn.”

Young spent a lot of time talking to students about their needs and asked schools to provide her with students to pilot a curriculum. The schools sent her 77 white male students who were already taking AP computer science and math.

“I like to say they gave us the kids they knew we couldn’t hurt,” said Young, whose school grew from those 77 to 2 million students in 50 states and 67 countries.

The biggest lesson she has learned is that all students can benefit from online courses.

“At the beginning, we really felt like there was going to be a certain type of student this would work for ,and we would have to screen the students and test them to make sure they were at a level to be successful,” said Young, who also worked as a classroom teacher and elementary school administrator.

“What we know now is that there are so many types of students that virtual education is appropriate for — students who are accelerated who don’t want to wait for the rest of the class to catch up, and those who are behind who need more time. If we can give them time to catch up without peer pressure or the pressure of the calendar, they wake up and say ‘I’m not stupid. I just need more time to learn this concept.’" 

James Rund, senior vice president of Educational Outreach and Student Services at ASU, said that Young will bring a mastery of personalized learningAlso on the ASU Prep Digital High School team as national advisers are John Bailey, a former program officer with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and Michael Horn, chief strategy officer with Entangled Ventures and co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, a nonprofit think tank. . “At ASU, we share Julie’s sense of urgency to reinvent educational models and provide access to learning for every student when and where they need it," he said.

Young said she’s eager to prepare students for a changing world.

“I’m excited about ASU’s vision to make an impact on the community and the fact they see the world as their community. One of the things I think our country needs more than anything right now in this global society, is to understand each other.

“We have an opportunity for that through virtual education, connecting cultures and communities around the globe.”

For more information about ASU Prep Digital High School and to enroll, visit

Mary Beth Faller

reporter , ASU Now