U.S. Supreme Court

Sotomayor notes one 'over the edge' criticism from a fellow justice, but there's no hard feelings

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Remember where you came from, and embrace yourself for who you are, Sonia Sotomayor told a Chicago audience Thursday, while promoting her autobiography My Beloved World. It recently debuted at No. 1 on the New York Times’ hardcover nonfiction best-seller list.

Sotomayor made her remarks at a breakfast sponsored by the Executives’ Club of Chicago. During her speech she also acknowledged, without mentioning the specific opinion, that a U.S. Supreme Court colleague was “a little over the edge in attacking” one of her majority writings.

Friends wondered how she could continue to be affable with the justice.

“I said, ‘He’s just upset because he lost,’ ” Sotomayor told the audience, explaining that while she and some colleagues may disagree about certain issues, they all care passionately about the court, and there’s no doubt among them regarding their dedication to it.

Another question asked about the justices spending time together.

“I’ve never had lunch with my colleagues so much as I do now,” Sotomayor answered, explaining that the justices eat lunch together about 10 times a month, after oral arguments and Friday conference. There’s a rule that you can’t talk about business during the meals.

“We talk about everything else,” she said. “If you get together with your brothers and sisters 10 days out of the month, sometimes you know that it sometimes feels like it’s a little too much, but really it’s not.”

Sotomayor, a Bronx native who grew up in a working-class housing project, is the the daughter of a nurse and an alcoholic father who died when she was 9. Her appointment, she said, seems like a fantasy of sorts.

“I realized that I was and could be in danger of forgetting where I came from. When you are on a path like I am, you tend to forget where you came from, and I didn’t want to forget that,” Sotomayor said. “I tell my friends and family, if I ever change even one iota, take my book and hit me over the head with it.”

A passage from her autobiography, dealing with women, careers, motherhood and choices, was read to the audience. Individuals who choose to leave careers and parent full time, Sotomayor said, deserve the same respect as those who choose to work and parent concurrently. According to her, the country is getting better about respecting those choices.

“The line that gives us true equality, and the freedom to make the choice and not be judged negatively for either choice, is my definition of equality,” she said. Sotomayor mentioned that her decision to not have children was largely because she has Type I diabetes. When she was of childbearing age, medical treatment was such that pregnancies with the condition were difficult.

She also took questions from the audience in a discussion that was moderated by ABA President Laurel G. Bellows. One mentioned the issue of women being perceived as too tough, or not tough enough, in professional settings.

Sotomayor’s response was that everyone should find their voice and work with it, tweaking the presentation as needed.

“You have to adjust your volume to to the needs of the space,” she said. “I’ve seen a seemingly self-contained lawyer take over the courtroom, and I’ve watched a lawyer full of bluster lose the audience’s attention.”

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