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Cornell Law School Alumnus Talks About Being a Judge in Contemporary Black America


He loves his wife. He loves his daughter. And even when he did not have an unabashed love for professional adversaries, he found a moment to discover some loveable quality within them and embrace it. Judge Stephen C. Robinson '84 spoke about his legal and personal life with a refreshing candor that resonated as a challenge to a Law School audience. If it is all about love, the task is to discern how to best impart that essence into daily practice. And that is no small endeavor.

Cornell Black Law Students Association welcomed Judge Robinson to speak on "The Color Line Revisited: Contemporary Black America." The topic covered not only successful Black American firsts but also the millions who continue to struggle. Judge Robinson career includes a montage of experiences including law firm practice, the Federal Bureau of Investigations, an insurance company, and a post as the U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut. His longest position is the one he currently holds, as a District Judge in the Southern District of New York.

While he loves his work, he does not enjoy sentencing. As an African American male who grew up in a project tenement in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, the social influences that lead so many black males to crime and violence today were omnipresent in his youth. It is difficult to sentence people who could have been him if given different opportunities in life. Judge Robinson considers all factors, including personal responsibility and fairness, in making his decisions from the bench.

The afternoon discussion went well beyond the expected two hours, filled with vivid personal anecdotes of how love permeates even the smallest of interactions. Though love supersedes all, Judge Robinson also stressed the value of diligence. Regardless of whether in the private or public sector, work product drives the legal profession. He reminded the audience that a person's character will shape each individual's success. To students listening, he reminded them that they are a generation that expects greatness and is open to historic possibilities. He recognized that his generation was wary about possibilities, hopeful but skeptical. What connects the two generations is that simple complexity that goes beyond the idea of public service or giving back to a community; it dilutes the color line and creates a broad reaching spectrum: love connects everyone. Once we are willing to embrace it, the possibilities will truly be infinite.