Sotomayor and Nonprofits – day one of WiW2012

I don’t know about the rest of the group, but I could go home tonight and feel like I got my money’s worth. We had three incredible experiences today, and also a tour of the Supreme Court –Just as professor Burke said, as amazing as the tours are, the people are better.

We started the day (in our beautiful suites eating a nice, simple breakfast) with some last-minute studying of the Supreme Court cases we were to hear, and question-drafting for Justice Sotomayor (!) First up were the two cases: Sackett v EPA and Kappos v Hyatt. The first was difficult to follow, but interesting to me; the second was difficult to follow, and even more difficult to be interested in (again, to me.) Hence, I will only attempt to summarize our experience with the first one. It was an interesting case for the Supreme Court to pick, because it was a more political, more pathos-injected case than a similar case that the court had refused to hear. It was about a couple trying to build a house on a plot of land they bought, who, as I understand it, were victim to a procedural EPA blunder, in that they didn’t get the usual warnings before receiving an official Order of Compliance. And the Order was really intense, saying that if they didn’t do all this stuff to return their property to its original wetland state, then they would be fined over 30,000 dollars a day until they did. So they’re suing because they didn’t get due process, meaning that they had to comply with an order before it was reviewed. Basically. It was political in that basically all the Amici briefs (by corporations, mostly) were on the side of this couple, which I thought was interesting. And then I read more about it and realized that if they won this suit, then the precedent would be set for court reviews on all of the huge amount of orders that the EPA makes. And of course that would result in a more pro-business way of dealing with the environment because as it is now, most people don’t attempt to challenge EPA orders, because when there isn’t a mistake made, people get enough fair warning to do things like get permits to build on wetlands. But the Sacketts’ story is really pretty sad. They buy a piece of land, they try to build a house on it, and they’ve practically poured the foundation when they get a mean letter in the mail saying that for every day before they start reversing their land-leveling and planting trees, they’ll pay a 30,000 ish dollar fine. So why did the Supreme Court agree to hear this case and not the other one? Maybe it’s not the reason why, but I notice that its element of pity makes it a lot easier to prosecute against the EPA.

That really ties in with something we all came across when looking up Justice Sotomayor, that she would maybe be an “activist judge.” I wonder if there’s some activism in deciding which cases get heard? We had a lot of questions like that saved up for her, although our tour guide helpfully answered a lot of the more mundane ones (the court votes on whether to hear a case if 4 justices think it’s really important). He also gave us a short history: interesting, that in the beginning nobody really knew what the Supreme Court was going to end up doing, and nobody really wanted to be a justice –they didn’t even have a room to call their own.

But today, being a Justice is way cool. Look at Justice Sotomayor, who practically radiates a calming aura over the people she talks to that just makes them settle in their armchairs and change their minds. We all rose when she walked into the room, and she was very personal and friendly, telling us to sit down and making a bit of small talk. We got in four or five questions before a dastardly aide whisked her off, about her life and experiences. She was so thoughtful, it was as though she had all the time in the world and wanted nothing more than to say exactly what was on her mind, in the perfect and most resounding way. Every question about her life, she turned into advice. And even though she had just seen us for the first time, she seemed invested in us, and in our futures. When someone asked, why did you put in so much effort, make the sacrifices to be here, what motivated you… she said, “you.”

Practically giggling with the thrill of the meeting, and going over our favorite things from what she said, we made our way out of the courthouse and into the snow. We took the metro to our next stop, an alumnae panel about working at Nonprofit Organizations.

At this stop, I formulated almost my entire life plan. I want to be like these women, who all spoke about their jobs with such levity and joy. Lori Wallach, the director of Global Trade Watch at Public Citizen, entertained us to no end about her life story and current job. We arrived early enough that we got to spend extra time with Margot Conrad, who works at Partnership for Government Service, which works on improving leadership and skills among government employees. We stayed after the official panel and –you guessed it- networked.

At this point, sugar highs were crashing and high heels were hobbling. We took the metro home and ordered some thai food –time to read up on the State Department.

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