Sotomayor on Affirmative Action: `How the Door Got Opened’

Photograph by Alex Brandon/AP Photo

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor speaks during an event at the University of Pennsylvania Law School in Philadelphia.

Sonia Sotomayor, the first Hispanic justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, acknowledges the role that affirmative action played in her education — an admittance to Princeton that paved the way for a child of Puerto Rican immigrants in the Bronx.

On the Supreme Court, she will face a decision on the issue in a case brought by a white woman denied access to the University of Texas.

She isn’t commenting on that case publicly, but she is speaking about her own life before the court in interviews surrounding the publication of her book, “My Beloved World,” which will be released Monday.

She and fellow Justice Clarence Thomas part ways on this matter, she readily allows.

“I do know that, for me, it was a door opener that changed the course of my life,” Sotomayor says in one interview, airing Sunday on CBS News’ “60 Minutes.”

And in a series of talks airing on National Public Radio starting Monday, Sotomayor says: “I know Clarence, admire him, and have grown to appreciate him and his views. We are different people. I have never, ever focused on the negative of things. I always look at the positive. ”

“And I know one thing: If affirmative action opened the doors for me at Princeton,” Sotomayor says in the NPR interview, “once I got in, I did the work. Proved myself worthy. So I don’t look at how the door got opened.”

She also recalls her first lesson about the controversy in affirmative action.

“The first day I received in high school a card from Princeton telling me that it was possible that I was going to get in, I was stopped by the school nurse and asked why I was sent a possible and the number one and the number two in the class were not,” she recalls in the CBS interview. “Now I didn’t know about affirmative action. But from the tone of her question I understood that she thought there was something wrong with them looking at me and not looking at those other two students.”

She encountered the question again as she was graduating from Yale Law School, she tells NPR. At a recruiting dinner, a partner in a large Washington, D.C., law firm asked her: “Did you get into Yale only because you are Puerto Rican?”

”It took me aback to think that someone was actually looking at me that way,” she says, noting that the man apparently knew nothing about her academic successes. ”Now that’s the price of affirmative action that Clarence Thomas talks about … and it’s one that can lead to the sense that the benefits might be outweighed by the negative impressions it leaves. But that was my first moment experiencing that kind of overt discrimination.”

The same remains true today, she tells “60 Minutes:”

“You can’t be a minority in this society without having someone express disapproval about affirmative action.”

Read more about her life in the NPR interview here.

See an excerpt of the CBS interview here.

 

 

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