As the biography journey begins its final days, I returned to yet another female Justice of the US Supreme Court. I sought not only to learn about a strong woman, but also one who will lay out a strong memoir to shape her rise to judicial prominence. While some will remember my reviews of pieces by Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg during this biography binge, they proved highly informative, but lacked a true chronological build-up and left me wanting more. Justice Sonia Sotomayor has written a strong historical piece that does what I have been seeking all along, tapping into her youth and the hurdles she faced growing up, both proving to be highly useful for the reader to better understand the woman who currently sits on the Court. With a strong pre-judicial focus, the biography presents her arguments in a clear fashion that the curious reader may find useful to better understand Sonia Sotomayor as a woman and a legal heavyweight alike.
Born in the South Bronx, Sotomayor opens by tackling two major struggles she faced as a young girl, a diagnosis of Type 1 (juvenile) diabetes and a less that calm home life. Her close-knit family showered her with love, even when money was scarce, but an alcoholic father added strain to an already troublesome home. Her Catholic school upbringing brought the fear of God and the nuns into the early narrative, peppered with Sotomayor’s passion to learn, an obvious escape from the fighting at home. It was only when she reached high school that Sotomayor found her niche through a teacher that took an academic interest in her. This scholastic passion grew as Sotomayor gained admission into Princeton and eventually Yale Law School, where she continued to excel. These were the early 1970s and affirmative action was being bandied around Admission Offices across universities. Sotomayor addresses this, but makes a strong argument that her grades propelled her, even if certain doors may have been left open a crack. Of particular interest, Sotomayor seems never too have forgotten her roots, even during her Ivy League education. Her continued success baffled her at times, though she never forgot from whence she came, reminding the reader of her extended family and treks back to the Bronx whenever she could. Sotomayor also talks about a Hispanic Civil Rights Movement and how universities were a hotbed to begin cultivating new and exciting opportunities to foster respect for her cultural roots, first within academic circles and then at a government level. After graduation, Sotomayor began a new round of struggles and adventures as she had to make a career out of her extensive education. She turned to life as a trial lawyer, where she was able to prosecute criminals of all types, but also had epiphanies about the disparities of the legal system as a whole. Sotomayor used this as another building block in her creation of a legal and judicial foundation, striving to bring balance to a jaded and money-fuelled system. Tackling many cases, Sotomayor had a larger goal, to reach the bench and chose to enrich her life in private practice, where she might be able to hone some of her strong civil law skills. Many saw great possibilities for Sotomayor, pushing her towards applying for consideration of the Senate’s Judiciary Committee for a Federal District Court post. In the waning chapters, Sotomayor offers the reader some of the process involved therein and quickly ties up her narrative soon after her appointment. A strong first piece in a well-grounded memoir, Sotomayor is sure to garner much interest by any who take the time to read what she has to offer.
Sotomayor provides a strong foundation for the reader in this memoir, by pulling on her upbringing, education, and personal struggles. The narrative is not only clear and concise, but flavoured with the power of hindsight and recollection, synthesising events and ideas that might have been lost at the time of their emergence. Presenting herself humbly, Sotomayor allows the reader to judge for themselves as to what they think about this most accomplished woman. While I would have liked a section dedicated to her ongoing judicial work, Sotomayor admits in the forward that this would not be included. One can speculate that she wanted to remain impartial while sitting on the bench, but leaving the reader to wonder what might be in store in the second half of this telling memoir. Honest and told from the heart without turning into a tell-all, Sotomayor invites the reader into some of her most personal struggles, while staying true to all those who have helped her along the way. Truly a woman of much power who has seen much in her life, Sonia Sotomayor is a role model for many who know the power of determination.
Kudos, Justice Sotomayor for sharing so much about yourself. I came into this with such little knowledge about you and the life you led, but leave with much respect and a list of questions.