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Female Judicial Candidates Are Held to Different Standards, Sotomayor Tells Students

Posted Mar 8, 2011 9:39 AM CDT
By Stephanie Francis Ward

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Female federal judiciary candidates are treated differently than their male counterparts, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor told a group of law students yesterday, and women jurists need a thick skin.

"There are expectations about how women and men should behave," she said. "I am probably a bit more aggressive, but to hear people describe me as brash, and rude, the language used suggests a difference in expectations about what's OK for people's behavior."

Sotomayor made these remarks March 7 at Northwestern University School of Law at the annual Howard J. Trienens Visiting Judicial Scholar Program. The event is named in honor of a 1949 Northwestern law school graduate, who is a partner and former chairman of Chicago's Sidley & Austin.

The third woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, Sotomayor also discussed what the nomination process was like. Divorced since 1983, Sotomayor seemed to suggest that unmarried female federal judiciary candidates are judged more harshly about their private lives.

During the nomination process she was asked for the names of everyone she ever dated, Sotomayor told the audience.

"There were (questions) I was offended by, because I was convinced they were not asking those questions of male applicants," Sotomayor said. "One day, after I had been questioned for weeks at a time, I was so frustrated I looked at my assistant and said 'I think they already know the color of my underwear.'"

She noted that her federal court male colleagues who are also single, and date often, frequently bring their dates to public affairs.

"No one ever talks about it to them," she said. "I knew if I did the same thing, my morals would be questioned.

"I was very careful, and I still am very careful, about who I date," Sotomayor added. "I do it very privately."

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