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January 18th, 2013
08:16 PM ET

My conversation with Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor: The power of a role model

EDITOR'S NOTE: U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor sits down with CNN's Soledad O'Brien to talk about her new memoir, her views on being an affirmative action student and now a judge ruling on those cases, the differences between her and Justice Clarence Thomas, and her view that working mothers can't have it all. The interview will air in two parts on "Starting Point" on Monday, Jan 21st and Tuesday, Jan 22nd at 7aET only on CNN.

By "Starting Point" host Soledad O'Brien

Before my interview with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, she ushered me into her expansive office. It's upstairs from the rest of the justices. You wouldn't know it, but Justice Sotomayor can be loud. She likes to party, she likes noise, laughter and music. The offices downstairs…they tend to be quieter.

As I walk in, I notice a plaque on her front door and take a picture of it. “Well-behaved women rarely make history,” it says. I ask her if I could tweet the photo. She obliges, saying it's a sign that really embodies her and that most reporters miss it. 

When we sit down for the interview, the first thing we talk about is Sunday's swearing in of Vice President Biden for his second term. I asked her what she thinks of that historic opportunity, since she would be the first Hispanic judge to administer the oath. I also wondered if she felt added pressure, especially after Chief Justice John Roberts famously fumbled President Barack Obama's oath in 2009.

“When you read my book you know that I practice everything I do over and over again," Justice Sotomayor says. "So I have been saying the oath out loud for a couple of weeks now a couple of times a day but I won’t be relying on my memory either. I’ll have a card with me.”

What's clear is that Justice Sotomayor has a natural ease, which comes across in person and in her new memoir, "My Beloved World." The book recounts her life in the Bronx and her rise through her career, but it ends when she is nominated to her first judgeship on New York's Federal court and doesn't include much about her Supreme Court seat.

Her book also focuses a lot on her roots, her tight-knit Puerto Rican family and growing up in poverty in a public housing project in the Bronx, NY. She went on to college at Princeton and Yale, then worked as a lawyer until she was appointed to her first judgeship in 1991. Despite her rise, she never forgets where she came from.

An important theme she makes in the book is that she doesn't try to glamorize her great successes. Sotomayor makes a point of explaining the lessons she's learned through the challenges she's faced along the way. She recounts what it was like to attend Princeton in 1972, the 3rd year of classes for women at the school. At the time, there were virtually no Latinos at the school but she was still able to observe the plusses, challenges and ultimately the lessons learned from what was at times an isolating experience.

In her first year on the Supreme Court, Sotomayor says she was terrified. She points to her colleagues around her as the ones she relied on for mentoring. Though in reading her memoir and talking with her, it's clear that her drive to 'make it' is evident throughout her life. Even though she says she feels unprepared and not ready for her various experiences, she always manages to take a lay of the land and not only succeed but also outcompete everyone else.

She didn't shy away from talking openly about her diabetes and the importance of staying fit for her health. She felt she had an opportunity in the book to be an example for others.

Justice Sotomayor may be a new kind of Supreme Court Justice, one who knows her power as a role model and as someone who people can relate to. When talking with her in the interview, it's clear her friendliness and warmth makes it's easy to forget she holds a seat on the highest court in the country.

At the end of the interview, I introduced Justice Sotomayor to Erica Ramos, a recent college graduate from the Bronx. Sotomayor embraced Erica, who was trembling from joy, and autographed a book for her.

Sotomayor offered her some advice: You have so many great opportunities. Take them. 

Filed under: SCOTUS • U.S. Supreme Court
soundoff (38 Responses)
  1. iceload9

    We get it, Sotomayer has a book and a publicist getting her on every network and articles in every mag. I think one or two weeks is enough.

    January 21, 2013 at 9:02 am | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Charlotte

    Someone should report Amir Ali, he apparently is off his meds and is babbling incoherently. Cannot make head nor tails out of all the bizarre posts above....

    January 21, 2013 at 8:54 am | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Joe Rioux

    CNN: Isn't it obvious that you need to DELETE the numerous posts by "Amir Ali"????

    January 21, 2013 at 8:50 am | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Robert

    I'm pretty sure Amir Ali needs "Rosetta Stone English Version" before he becomes a propagandist for the Paki Taliban hurling insults at our government on CNN chat....

    January 21, 2013 at 8:42 am | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Frank

    No your not Dreaming Sotomeyer. Obama does now have 4 more years to FINISH US OFF!

    January 21, 2013 at 8:07 am | Report abuse | Reply
  6. rrhloe

    Cnn will rarely post anything but obama worship!!!

    January 21, 2013 at 8:07 am | Report abuse | Reply
  7. rrhloe

    How nice for her that she's "dreaming" – the middle class is having an obama liberal/fascist/socialist nightmare!

    January 21, 2013 at 8:06 am | Report abuse | Reply
  8. North Dallas Don

    Amir Ali needs a hobby. Aside from that, Justice Sotomayor has a Puerto Rican family living in The Bronx. Since when was The Bronx moved to Puerto Rico? Why do reporters insist on playing up someone's race or ethnicity or religion but omit the important facts such as the work it took to get to this point and qualifications? I couldn't care less that Sotomayor is Puerto Rican, Dutch, Japense, or Antarctican.

    January 21, 2013 at 2:54 am | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Kevin H

    I am proud that I live in an era when it is possible for the daughter of Puerto Rican immigrants to become a United States Supreme Court Justice. She serves as a role model for so many. For those who had to fight adversity to achieve success. She is female, Hispanic, one of the first to graduate Princeton Law school. She knows the enormity of the role she plays in history, at the Supreme Court, in law and for the people of Puerto Rico. Justice Sotomayor will be a significant force for good for the people of this country for many years to come. Bless her.

    January 21, 2013 at 12:40 am | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Paul Nay

    I don't know what "Amir Ali" is sounding off about but it's not Justice Sotomayor. Beyond a vague sense of hostility to India I can't understand him at all. If anyone can explain him please enlighten us. Or maybe CNN can explain how his "remarks" got put here.
    Ms. O'Brien mentions a role model in the title, but who is it – Sotomayor for other minority women, or some unnamed hero(ine) for her?

    January 21, 2013 at 12:24 am | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Corinne

    Could someone lead Air Ali carefully away?

    January 20, 2013 at 10:30 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Noel

    Yes, she has a natural ease about her...the same ease she displayed in lying at her confirmation hearings...something that comes very natural and easy to most extreme leftists...

    January 20, 2013 at 10:29 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  13. FreeManinAmerica

    Gag me with a spoon!

    January 20, 2013 at 10:28 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  14. blake

    Why is my comment awaiting moderation?

    January 20, 2013 at 10:24 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  15. blake

    Just another far left activist judge. The kind Obama will continue appointing in his second term. No regard for the constitution. Simply using her role to impose her extreme political views on others.

    January 20, 2013 at 10:23 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Carl

    Amir – a fitting tribute an an unqualified Obama appointee.

    January 20, 2013 at 10:13 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  17. queenbee9

    I am commenting here because such a wonderful story is awe inspiring and there should be some comment here besides the spam by Amir Ali

    January 20, 2013 at 10:07 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Ken from FL

    Ah, someone else for Soledad to fawn over.

    January 20, 2013 at 10:07 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  19. davecu

    Amir Ali
    I'll go out on a limb here and guess that English is not your home language.

    January 20, 2013 at 9:44 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  20. amidreaming

    see the luck of this VP, who failed miserably in the presidential preliminaries , but went on to become two term VP, inspite of putting his foot in his mouth innumerable times, yes it is not a dream? Look at lady clinton who got millions of preliminary votes but got pushed under the bus?

    January 20, 2013 at 9:23 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Evelyn Connaway

    I think Judge Sotomayor will be a great judge and use the law as it was meant to be. All we need is more Judges in High Heels – an even mix of female and male. We need a total of ten judges on the Supreme Court, with no political ideology in use.

    January 20, 2013 at 9:17 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  22. cindy lou who

    may the obama administrations every move be a complete failure

    January 20, 2013 at 9:16 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Eugene

    Where is the interview? This article is not an interview. Who is CNN trying to fool? Or is this just another piece of page-filling junk?

    January 20, 2013 at 9:06 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Sabre546

    I lost all respect for Sotomayor when she came out and told every one if it was for affirmative action she would not be where she is today because her test scores were lower then others for college.

    January 20, 2013 at 8:34 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  25. vidal808

    What, what was that ? I think this SC judge is an asset and I applaud her position. God bless and good luck Justice Sotomayor....

    January 20, 2013 at 8:04 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Trevor

    It's a joke that someone so thoroughly unqualified will be serving a life term on the SCOTUS.

    January 20, 2013 at 7:56 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Uncle Connie

    How wonderful that Justice Sotomayor took hold of the opportunities available and did so very much with them. Bravo for her!

    Now if only Amir Ali would avail himself of far FEWER opportunities....

    January 20, 2013 at 6:33 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Lizzy10

    I had the privilege of hearing Ms. Sotomayor speak at my son's graduation from NYU-Polytechnic and she was a wonderful speaker who was able to hold the attention of the entire excited class and their guests in Yankee Stadium. She is an inspiration.

    January 20, 2013 at 6:06 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Truth is a blinding light

    Amir, you need to up your dosage.

    January 20, 2013 at 5:58 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  30. bribarian

    Sotomayor is a racist member of La Raza, no surprise she's worshipped here at communist news network.

    January 20, 2013 at 5:56 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  31. bill.x

    "Sotomayor can be loud. She likes to party, she likes noise, laughter and music" That's our jibararita – Vaja! Sonia. With love.

    January 20, 2013 at 5:52 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  32. MN

    Justice Sotomayor is an embarassment to the Hispanics. Her rulings stink!

    January 20, 2013 at 5:42 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  33. cindy lou who

    were so proud of you.... blessings to obama

    January 20, 2013 at 5:38 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  34. cindy lou who

    obama the only man who can save this nation

    January 20, 2013 at 5:37 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  35. cindy lou who

    congrats to our fearless leader

    January 20, 2013 at 5:36 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  36. cindy lou who

    i dont blame obama for our decline...i blame the american people...dar/k/er/ ,poorer.....less moral..... and with a non exsistent work ethic

    January 20, 2013 at 5:33 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  37. Kimberly

    I think it's important to point out that Justice Sotomayor has Juvenile Diabetes, known as Type One Diabetes, which is an autoimmune disorder caused when the immune system mistakenly attacks and kills off insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, thereby rendering a person Insulin dependent (requiring about 7 shots a day to survive). There is no cure for Type One Diabetes. This is different from Type Two Diabetes, which the majority (90 percent) of diabetics have. Type Two is caused by poor diet, lack of exercise and most often obesity. It can be somewhat controlled by oral medication, or cured by improved diet and exercise.

    January 20, 2013 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  38. Jowl

    We will never get past race issues if every time someone does something their race becomes part if the story.

    I was hoping under CNN's new leadership, this trend might stop, but it seems to be getting even worse.

    January 20, 2013 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse | Reply

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