86 pages 2 hours read

Sonia Sotomayor

My Beloved World

Nonfiction | Autobiography / Memoir | Adult | Published in 2013

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Sonia Sotomayor (b. June 25, 1954) is an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court. Born and raised in the Bronx, NY to Puerto Rican parents, she graduated from Princeton University summa cum laude in 1976 and Yale University’s law school in 1979. After four and a half years working as an assistant district attorney in New York City, she joined Pavia & Harcourt, a small Manhattan law firm, eventually becoming a partner. In 1991, she became a federal judge after President George H. W. Bush nominated her for the Southern District of New York. She kept the position until 1997, when President Bill Clinton nominated her for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. In 2009, President Barack Obama nominated her for the Supreme Court. She was sworn in on Aug. 8, 2009.

My Beloved World is her memoir of growing up, overcoming obstacles, and achieving her greatest aspiration. The title takes its name from a poem that provides the book’s epigraph. Sotomayor explains that she wrote her book to answer questions often posed to her by people who have been inspired by her experiences. By sharing her story, she hopes to help others. Her greatest accomplishments happened, she explains, when she was thinking not about personal gain but channeling her efforts towards helping others. As she embarks on her journey as a Supreme Court Justice, she does not want to lose sight of that larger purpose. Sotomayor specifies that she did not set out to become a Supreme Court Justice but tackled challenges as they came. Each small step accumulated to become a giant leap from an impoverished neighborhood riddled with drugs and crime to the highest position attainable in her field.

The book begins with her diabetes diagnosis at age seven and her early childhood—the Bronxdale housing projects where she lived; sleepovers at her grandmother’s,which were a refuge from her parents’ volatile marriage; and visits to Puerto Rico, whose tropical landscape provided a counterpoint to New York City’s concrete and bustle. Sotomayor also explains that she became self-sufficient because she felt her parents were unreliable and unavailable. Her father’s death from alcoholism when she was nine changed her life for better and worse. Her grandmother’s grief was total and frightened Sotomayor. She also missed her father and her grandmother’s parties, which stopped after his death. Yet the quality of her family life improved. Her mother was home more often and began speaking English with her children. Sotomayor discovered the pleasure of reading and began to improve at school.

Two books she read as an adolescent became touchstones in her life: the Nancy Drew young adult detective series and William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. The former introduced her to detective work and the law, the profession she ultimately chose to pursue. Lord of the Flies helped her reflect on the problems in her community and how law could become a force for good. With her eye on a future law career, she joined the Forensics Club to improve her public speaking and discovered how to use emotion and reason to craft persuasive arguments. Her history teacher expanded her intellectual horizons by emphasizing critical thinking over rote memorization. Sotomayor’s Forensics Club student coach encouraged her to apply to Ivy League Schools, and she eventually was accepted to Princeton University.

Initially, she could not relate to her privileged students, who had seen and experienced parts of the world that were alien to Sotomayor, but she also recognized that these same students could be naive about life in a way that she was not. Academically, she perceived that she was behind her privileged peers and committed herself to becoming a student for life. She became involved with organizations dedicated to improving Hispanic students’ access to and Hispanic professionals’ representation in higher education. Her commitment to build bridges between her ethnic community and the larger American community inspired her to join the Discipline Committee, a mainstream organization. She graduated summa cum laude in 1976. During the summer, she married her high school boyfriend, Kevin Noonan, and the couple moved to New Haven in the fall as Sotomayor entered Yale law school, where she continued to work toward inclusion, contributing her time to Hispanic and mainstream organizations. She also met her first professional mentor, Hispanic civil rights activist José Cabranes. A chance meeting with New York District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau at a panel discussion led to a job offer, and she joined the DA’s office as a prosecutor after graduation.

Sotomayor and her husband moved back to Princeton as he began a graduate program, and her work in the DA’s Office was all-consuming. She worked long hours, often being away from home for twelve-fifteen hour stretches. This became a contributing factor in the breakup of her marriage, but her self-sufficiency and unwillingness to be vulnerable were also factors. Though challenging, she loved her work for its clear rules, verbal sparring, and courtroom spontaneity. As she had in college and law school, she contributed her time to Hispanic and mainstream organizations, which brought her to the attention of decision-makers in the political arena. Yet she also realized she needed to expand her knowledge of law if she were ever to fulfill her aspiration to become a judge. She left the DA’s Office to work for a small, private Manhattan law firm, at which she became a partner in 1988. In her personal life, she strove to grow and deepen her relationships with her family and friends. In 1990, a Pavia & Harcourt partner encouraged Sotomayor to apply for a judicial opening, for which she was eventually nominated and confirmed. Six years after achieving this milestone, she was nominated for the Second Circuit bench and twelve years after that, the United States Supreme Court.

Reflecting on her journey to become a judge, Sotomayor says she feels blessed to have had two models of selfless love: her mother and grandmother. They showed her what it looks like to be an active member of a community who strives to contribute positively. Her mother and grandmother were both healers, of body and soul, respectively. Sotomayor chose law instead of medicine because she believes law can be a force for good, enacting legislative change that materially impacts lives on a massive scale. Sotomayor feels blessed with native optimism and perseverance that have seen her through her life’s many challenges, and she sees these gifts as a responsibility to help others. Her life is not her own, she says, but part of a larger body. She believes this interrelationship between self and other is crucial to preventing the breakdown of society.

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