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What Does Sotomayor's 'Beloved World' Mean for Affirmative Action?

By Robyn Hagan Cain on January 18, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Justice Sonia Sotomayor's new book, "My Beloved World," is a hit.

Reviewers have embraced her "refreshing conversational style" and "fascinating life story." NPR's Nina Totenberg predicts that her "beautifully written and novelistic" "page-turner" will become a best-seller.

In the forward to her memoir, Sotomayor writes,

I have ventured to write more intimately about my personal life than is customary for a member of the Supreme Court, and with that candor comes a measure of vulnerability. I will be judged as a human being by what readers find here. There are hazards to openness, but they seem minor compared with the possibility that some readers may find comfort, perhaps even inspiration, from a close examination of how an ordinary person, with strengths and weaknesses like anyone else, has managed an extraordinary journey.

Sotomayor is correct. She probably will be judged. Especially because she has openly discussed her experiences with affirmative action during a term when the Supreme Court will decide the fate of affirmative action.

(Not that she is the first justice to write about the topic. Justice Clarence Thomas recounted his humiliation from the "taint of racial preference" in his 2008 memoir, "My Grandfather's Son.")

Sotomayor suggests that affirmative action served "to create the conditions whereby students from disadvantaged backgrounds could be brought to the starting line of a race many were unaware was even being run." While promoting her book on "Today," Sotomayor she told Savannah Guthrie:

The initial plans that I was a beneficiary of were very different. They said to schools and to employers, 'You can't limit your hiring from pools that are segregated.' The plans that the courts were dealing with over the years were plans that had fixed quotas, plans that specified that certain numbers of minorities had to be taken into schools ... When I call myself an affirmative action baby, I'm talking about the essence of what affirmative action was when it started.

The distinction about the "initial plans" is important. Justice Sotomayor's memoirs covers her life from birth until her ascent to the bench. She steers clear of impropriety by avoiding discussion of her life in robes. The book doesn't delve into this term's affirmative action case, Fisher v. University of Texas, but Sotomayor's positive accounts of affirmative action suggest that she would lean toward upholding it. Much like Justice Thomas' feelings about the policy indicate that he will vote to overturn it.

While we wait for the Fisher opinion, we can only speculate about the impact that Sotomayor's personal experiences will have on the case. But if she votes in favor of continuing affirmative action, critics will likely argue that the Wise Latina's famous empathy influenced her decision.

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