The first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice, Sonia Sotomayor is also called Madam Justice, but she says she prefers the link to her humble roots.
Sotomayor, 58, spoke about her upbringing in The Bronx, New York, her “terrifying” first day in the nation’s highest court, her battle with diabetes and affirmative action, in a very personal interview on 60 Minutes Sunday night, just days before the release of her new memoir entitled My Beloved World.
The book title, inspired by a line from Puerto Rican poet José Guatier Benítez, is also a metaphor for her upbringing in The Bronx, where she learned some of the tricks that made her one of the most powerful women in America. It’s where she learned to be tough.
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“I am the most obstinate person you will ever meet,” she told CBS’s Scott Pelley. “I have a streak of stubbornness in me that I think is what has accounted for some of my success in life. There is some personal need to persevere, to fight the fight. And if you just try and be stubborn about trying, you can do what you set your mind to.”
The daughter of Puerto Rican immigrants, Sotomayor, grew up in a housing project and was inspired to be a cop as a young girl thanks to her love of Nancy Drew novels and Perry Mason’s TV show.
Sotomayor was raised by her mother, Celina Sotomayor. Her father was an alcoholic.
“I had sort of a childlike appreciation that he couldn’t help himself,” she said. “I also watched him die from drinking.”
But her diagnosis with Type 1-diabetes prevented her from being a cop and switched her career aspirations toward law. She began her career as a prosecutor in New York, a period when she says she smoked three and a half packs of cigarettes a day—she quit after she saw her young niece holding a pencil between her fingers and blowing imaginary rings of smoke. Four years later, Sotomayor left the DA’s office and went into corporate law.
She was then appointed as a federal court judge by former President George H.W. Bush, then as an appeals court judge by Bill Clinton and in 2009 she was selected for the Supreme Court by President Obama.
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