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Long Hours and Hard Work Took a Toll on Sotomayor’s Relationships

Posted Jul 10, 2009 7:15 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Hard work is a theme running through the life of U.S. Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, work so demanding that the federal appeals judge has acknowledged its toll on her personal life.

“Often, friends say this image lingers in their mind’s eye: Ms. Sotomayor poring over law books and legal papers,” the New York Times reports. “Some days, she has said, it is hard enough to find time to sleep. A law clerk who submitted a draft memo could expect to watch the judge draw lines through passive language and circle split infinitives. If she revisited a case at 10 p.m., her clerks worked, too.”

The legal profession can be especially difficult for women, psychologist Fiona Travis said in an blog post last February. She cited ABA statistics that show a third of all women lawyers have never married, compared to 8 percent of male lawyers, and nearly half of women lawyers are currently unmarried, compared to 15 percent of the men.

For Sotomayor, the long hours began long before she became a judge.

Sotomayor married her high school sweetheart, Kevin Noonan, before she entered Yale Law School in 1976, the Times reports. In 1979 Noonan was living in Princeton, N.J., for graduate school and Sotomayor stayed many nights at a friend’s home that was closer to work in the Manhattan District Attorney’s office.

The couple divorced in 1983. Sotomayor offered a take on their problems in a panel on judicial life, the Times says. “I cannot attribute that divorce to work,” she said, “but certainly the fact that I was leaving my home at 7 and getting back at 10 o’clock was not of assistance in recognizing the problems developing in my marriage.”

Sotomayor later became a lawyer in private practice, telling Mademoiselle magazine and Good Morning America in 1986 about the difficult life, the Times recounts.

“The vast majority of lawyering is drudgery work—it’s sitting in a library, it’s banging out a brief, it’s talking to clients for endless hours,” she told GMA. And she talked about how the work affected her personal life. “A man who calls you three times and all three times you answer, I’ve got to work late, I’m flying to such and such a place,” she said, “after the third time, he begins thinking, ‘Gee, maybe she’s not interested.’ ”

When Sotomayor became a judge in 1992, she decided she would no longer date lawyers, a choice that narrowed the pool considerably, a friend told the Times. In 1998, Sotomayor became engaged to building contractor Peter White, described by the newspaper as a “dapper and gray-bearded” man who “preferred lakes and woods to urban clangor.” Sotomayor, on the other hand, was a child of New York City.

At Sotomayor's induction onto the New York City-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, she said White had made her a more loving a generous person. “Less than two years later, she gave a party at their newly renovated apartment for his 50th birthday,” the Times says. “And not long after that, their relationship ended. He returned to Westchester County, bought a small boat and married a woman who was an acquaintance of the judge and 14 years her junior.”

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