Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor: A Proud ‘Product of Affirmative Action’

In her newly released memoir, “My Beloved World,” Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor defends affirmative action – under which she was admitted to Princeton University and Yale Law School – as a needed tool to help disadvantaged students get to the starting line of the race to success.

When she entered Princeton on a scholarship in 1972 despite unspectacular test scores, Sotomayor recalls that the school was in only its third year of admitting women and had barely a handful of minority students. She also mentions that she had much the same experience as a Yale law student before becoming a New York prosecutor, a private lawyer, and a federal judge. When President Barack Obama appointed her to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2009, she became its third-ever female justice and first Latina.

In a past speaking engagement, Sotomayor has said that she is a “product of affirmative action,” and she writes that her accomplishments at Princeton, including receiving the highest prize given to seniors, earning a place in the Phi Beta Kappa honor society, and graduating with highest honors, speak for themselves.

“Yes, I needed help, but once I got there, I worked at it and I proved myself worthy,” Sotomayor said at a speaking engagement in San Francisco. She said she wants to tell “people who have been accused of getting in because of special favors not to feel ashamed” of what they achieve on their own.

Challenges to programs such as affirmative action, equal opportunity, and holistic admissions are currently being deliberated by the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard arguments in a University of Texas case in October.

In its review of “My Beloved World”, The Economist notes that though Justice Sotomayor offers a clear justification of affirmative action, those who read the memoir for a deeper insight into her judicial philosophy will finish the book without finding anything concerning her current thoughts on the court. Instead readers may find a spirited pragmatism and optimism, and a sense of how the law can, does, and should affect the daily lives of Americans.

As Sotomayor writes in the book’s prologue, “My purpose in writing is to make my hopeful example accessible. People who live in difficult circumstances need to know that happy endings are possible.”