'Not some god': Supreme Justice Sotomayor opens up to Chicago audience
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor embraces a girl while speaking at the Harold Washington Library. She was discussing her new memoir, "My Beloved World." (Antonio Perez, Chicago Tribune / January 30, 2013)
She walked through the audience at the Harold Washington Public Library, gently touching people on the shoulder and embracing those who stood to ask her a question.
For someone charged with deciding some of the most important issues in the country, her message to the more than 750 people who came out, some of them forced into an overflow room to watch via video, was that she is no different than they.
Sotomayor wanted them to know that she is “not some god” up there on the bench.
“I want to be honest about my failures. Life is just not easy,” Sotomayor said, adding that those in the audience can say the same. “I am hoping that as people read the book, they will be able to talk about that at least to themselves and maybe open up to their friends.”
It is rare for Supreme Court justices to open themselves up to the public. But in recent weeks, Sotomayor has freely offered insight into her life, from the disappointments of a young child growing up with an alcoholic father to the ridicule she endured at Princeton University for speaking out for affirmative action.
She has made it clear that it was all of these experiences put her on the path to becoming a Supreme Court justice, the first Latina in America to attain such heights.
Chicago is the latest stop on her multicity tour to promote the memoir, which covers many personal aspects of her life, including her battle with Type 1 diabetes at age 7 and her decision not to have children.
The tour has allowed her to make a personal connection with the public, something she said is necessary in order for people to know that she strives to make the best decisions based on the law.
But the book tour is just one way Sotomayor has connected with the public. Earlier this month, she appeared on CBS' “60 Minutes,” taking correspondent Scott Pelley on a tour of her old Bronx, N.Y., neighborhood. At one point, she stopped on a corner and pointed out the public housing project she lived in and greeted a current resident in Spanish.
Shortly after that, Sotomayor, 58, stood on the steps of the White House and administered the oath of office to Vice President Joe Biden, marking another historic first for Hispanics.
And last week, she was in Beverly Hills, Calif., answering questions from actress Eva Longoria in front of a live audience.
She has made no secret of the fact that she often disagrees with Justice Clarence Thomas, the court's only African American, on the issue of affirmative action. Instead of hiding from it, she has embraced the role affirmative action played in her life.
In his introduction, Mayor Rahm Emanuel described Sotomayor as someone who has brought a “heartbeat” to the Supreme Court. At the end, she opened it up for questions, and then she spent another hour signing books.
Seven-year-old Tabbie Major, of Chicago's Austin neighborhood, wanted to know what her favorite book was at that age.
The judge lifted the young girl and gave her a hug.
Then she stood over her, with a hand resting on the girl's shoulder, and answered, “Nancy Drew” because she lived in a different world than hers.