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Sotomayor Gives Views on Affirmative Action

| January 29, 2013
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by Jonathan Roisman

The U.S. Supreme Court’s only Hispanic said on Monday that she often disagrees with the court’s only African American when it comes to affirmative action.

Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor (NPR)

Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor (NPR)

Speaking on KQED’s Forum, Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor said she is more often in favor than her colleague, Associate Justice Clarence Thomas.

“Both of us recognize fully that affirmative action is a double-edged sword,” said Sotomayor. But she said that she might never have gotten into Princeton University without programs aimed at boosting the number of Hispanic students.

“The difference perhaps in our view of it is my understanding and appreciation that, at least for me, at that time … it opened a door for a chance for me to prove myself,” Sotomayor said.

“Lots of people get in through a lot of different doors. The real bottom line is, what do you do once you’re there? And if you do something good and prove yourself worthy, no one can take that away from you.”

Sotomayor spoke to Forum’s Michael Krasny for nearly an hour to discuss her recently released memoir, “My Beloved World.”  The book recounts her childhood in a Puerto Rican family in the South Bronx and her struggles entering the world of law.

“I wrote it so that every kid who is just like me — and there’s a whole lot of them out there — could see themselves in me and could see the potential for them to reach anything they want to be,” she said. “I really want everyone to read it and say, ‘Just like me.’”

Later she spoke of her diagnosis with Type 1 diabetes  at age 7. “Diabetes is just an inherent part of me,” she said. “It is ever present. … Disease doesn’t need to stop you, but you need to pay attention to it.”

Sotomayor’s father, who struggled with alcoholism for a number of years, died when she was 9. “I was very sensitive as a child because of my father’s alcoholism,” Sotomayor said.

But Sotomayor also recalled lighter moments. After the interview, she said she was amused by Stephen Colbert’s reaction after she told a puppet on “Sesame Street” that being a princess was not a career.

Sotomayor said writing a memoir was challenging because the type of writing required to write a book was much different than the legal writing she usually does.

She started the book by talking into a tape recorder, a process that she originally believed would take just a couple of weeks. It ended up taking six months.

“It was wonderful to find that side of Sonia,” she said, referring to the process of writing something not in her comfort zone of legal briefs. “It was a real challenge.”

The Sotomayors were a family of readers, she said. Her mother read the “New York Daily News” inside and out every day, and her father consumed information from a local Spanish-language newspaper.

Sotomayor said she is a very competitive person, but not in terms of other people. “I’m very competiveness inside myself. I try to best me. I set goals.”

For example, she said she received three Bs and one A in her first semester of college at Princeton University — and challenged herself to do better. The next year she got two Bs and two As, and by her junior year, she said, she had straight As.

One caller on the show said that Sotomayor’s story inspired her because she had similar difficulties growing up in an impoverished family. Sotomayor recognized the caller’s last name and said she remembered her in law school. Sotomayor was three years behind the caller in school at the time, she said.

Sotomayor said one of the greatest challenges that people face on a day-to-day basis is fear. “People let fear paralyze them,” she said. “It’s all right to fail. It’s all right to say ‘I don’t know.’”

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  • rogerclegg

    Justice Sotomayor is happy that she got into Princeton, but there are plenty of white and Asian kids who come from disadvantaged backgrounds, too, and there is no reason that skin color or ethnicity should be a factor.