I had the pleasure and honor of meeting then-Judge Sonia Sotomayor, at the time a member of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, at a friend’s wedding in the spring of 2005. I wrote a quick story about it for my first blog, Underneath Their Robes. I praised Her Honor as “striking,” “glamorous,” and stylishly attired: “Based on her fashion sense, it sounds like she’d be more at home on a Paris runway!”
But what really struck me about Judge Sotomayor was how friendly and down-to-earth she was. She chatted amiably with everyone, just like an ordinary guest; she put on no Article III airs. And when the time came to cut the rug, she and Judge Barbara Jones — then of the S.D.N.Y., now of Zuckerman Spaeder — dominated the ballroom like it was their courtroom.
Now the rest of the nation is seeing the Sonia Sotomayor that I briefly glimpsed almost eight year ago. As reflected in recent media coverage, the Wise Latina is truly America’s judicial sweetheart. And super-nice to the neighbors in her U Street condo building — who have all sorts of fun dish on the justice….
As noted in the New York Times (via Morning Docket), Justice Sotomayor’s new memoir, My Beloved World (affiliate link), currently sits atop the New York Times bestseller list. Wherever she goes, Justice Sotomayor is mobbed by adoring crowds of hundreds, even thousands, of people. And unlike some of the more reclusive federal judges, Justice Sotomayor welcomes the attention:
“It is my great hope that I’ll be a great justice, and that I’ll write opinions that will last the ages,” she said as she signed her way through giant stalagmites of books. “But that doesn’t always happen. More importantly, it’s only one measure of meaning in life. To me, the more important one is my values and my impact on people who feel inspired in any way by me.”
Serving as a role model “is the most valuable thing I can do,” she added.
And her power to serve as a role model, especially for the United States’s rapidly growing Latino community, played an important role in President Barack Obama selecting her as his first Supreme Court nominee (as recounted in Jeffrey Toobin’s book, The Oath (affiliate ink), among other sources).
Sure, other justices might make greater contributions to jurisprudence, but few can inspire like Justice Sotomayor. Let Justice Scalia or Justice Ginsburg be the law professors’ justices; Justice Sotomayor will be the people’s justice.
The Wise Latina isn’t afraid to make herself vulnerable or to present her imperfections, as noted in the Times:
Justice Sotomayor’s memoir is unusually frank by the standards of what government officials typically write. She emphasizes the fear and shame she has often felt: as a young child, she once heard relatives say her parents’ apartment was filthy. She began routinely scrubbing it so that no one could ever say that again.
Years later, when she visited Harvard’s admissions office, she was so intimidated that she fled mid-appointment for a train back to New York, even though the school had already admitted her.
“I disclose every fear I’ve ever had in this book,” Justice Sotomayor told her audience on Wednesday night.
And every embarrassment, too. Like how her ex-husband offered her Quaaludes on their wedding night. Or how she got no-offered at the end of her summer associateship with Paul Weiss. (If you have any news or rumor on the reason for that, we’d love to hear it, by email or by text: 646-820-8477.)
Justice Sotomayor is friendly and gracious even when she’s not trying to sell books. Based on this fascinating and funny Washington Post piece that appeared over the weekend, it sounds like Sonia from the Block couldn’t be nicer to the people who live and work on her block.
As we’ve previously reported, when we posted a lavish Lawyerly Lairs spread on her new D.C. home, Justice Sotomayor lives in a condo building in Washington’s trendy U Street corridor. In our story, we expressed doubt that an exalted justice of the U.S. Supreme Court would spend much time rubbing shoulders with the hoi polloi. But according to the Post, that’s exactly what she’s doing:
The Social Committee at the U Street corridor condo building was planning a “progressive” holiday dinner party for its residents. People on the ground floor would provide cocktails and snacks; hors d’oeuvres would be on the next floor; and courses 1 to 3 would be on the next three levels up.
One person, at least, couldn’t make the original date but still wanted to pitch in.
“Dear Neighbors,” the new woman on the third floor wrote to the building’s e-mail group. “I hate to miss this get together, but I understand that if everyone else can make it, you can’t change it for me. I will contribute a couple bottles of wine before I leave. Warm regards, Sonia Sotomayor.”
A very nice gesture — but in Washington, when the missing guest has “The Honorable” before her name, the party gets rescheduled. It happened in this case, and Justice Sotomayor attended, to everyone’s delight. After she left, her neighbors traded notes on what they discussed with her.
Past TV shows about the Supreme Court, such as First Monday and The Court, didn’t last long. But they were dramas. How about a sitcom, based on the life of Justice Sotomayor? This kind of encounter, recounted in the Post piece, sounds like promising fodder:
Slav Gatchev, 39, who is an emerging-markets finance specialist, said he occasionally runs into Sotomayor in the building. One recent night, Gatchev, dressed in sweatshirt and sweatpants, dropped off items for recycling in the garage and bumped into Sotomayor on her way home from work.
They greeted each other. Gatchev told her what he was doing, and he asked what she was up to. “She said, ‘I just came back from the White House,’ and I said, ‘Well, guess who had the better evening,’ ” Gatchev recalled.
I could totally see this sitcom, a high-low juxtaposition of constitutional law with condo building mishaps. In the morning, Justice Sotomayor gives a heartfelt speech at the justices’ conference that persuades a majority of the Court to uphold affirmative action in Fisher. In the evening, Justice Sotomayor accidentally locks herself in the recycling room and has to sleep on a bed of newspapers — with her face on the front page. Oh, the irony!
(Who should play Justice Scalia? Robert De Niro? Al Pacino? Hoo-hah! Feel free to make other casting suggestions in the comments.)
Here’s fodder for another episode:
Bo Trinh, 40, a scientist who lives in the building, said the justice gave him a ride in her chauffeured car to Union Station as she headed to work. Other times, they’ve had a neighborly meal.
“When we get together, she does a lot of cooking herself,” said Trinh….
By day, Justice Sotomayor votes in favor of a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. By night, she hosts a dinner party for her neighbors — and burns the patitas de cerdo. ¡Ay, dios mío!
These are just selected tidbits from two delicious articles. Check out the full Times and Post pieces, or order Justice Sotomayor’s biography, via the links below. And if you happen to see Justice Sotomayor out on the town — e.g., at a baseball game — please let us know (ideally with photographic evidence). ¡Gracias!
My Beloved World [Amazon (affiliate link)]
Along the U Street corridor, Sonia Sotomayor finds all the comforts of home [Washington Post]
On Book-Tour Circuit, Sotomayor Sees a New Niche for a Justice [New York Times via Morning Docket]