Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the third woman and the first Hispanic to serve on the Supreme Court, opens up about her family struggles, diagnosis with juvenile diabetes and what inspired her to become "the most important person in the room" in her new memoir.
The Real Sonia Sotomayor
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, anchor:
Sonia Sotomayor is only the third woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court and the first Hispanic Justice on the High Court. This week, she releases “My Beloved World,” a deeply personal memoir. I recently met up with Justice Sotomayor at her childhood church to learn a little bit more about the woman behind the robe.
JUSTICE SONIA SOTOMAYOR: I wrote this book right after my nomination because I wanted to hold on to the real Sonia.
GUTHRIE: The real Sonia traces her earliest footsteps on the streets of the Bronx.
JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: This was a bustling, bustling area, jam packed with people.
GUTHRIE: Telling a story it turns inspiring and heartbreaking. At age eight, diagnosed with juvenile diabetes, and her mother Selena left to raise two young children after Sotomayor’s father died, following a long battle with alcohol. Do you think you were fully aware of the struggles he was having with alcohol?
JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: Even as a child, I asked if you really love me, why can’t you stop? I never asked him that question because I knew the answer. He can’t, he couldn’t.
GUTHRIE: You’ve spoken so warmly of your mother, who I know you adore, but as a child we learn in the book, you didn’t always have that close relationship. And at one point I think you used the word neglect.
JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: Neglect was the right word. I barely saw my mother. And the mom I saw was often angry and unhappy. The mother I grew up with is not the mother I know now. It’s not the mother she became after my father died. So help me God. And that’s been the greatest prize of my life. Because in watching my mother grow and develop herself, I grew and developed myself.
GUTHRIE: Here from the church she once attended with her aunt to the library where she voraciously gobbled up books.
JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: I read anything and anything I could get my hands on.
GUTHRIE: The future Supreme Court Justice was cultivating a love of the law from two unlikely legal influences--Nancy Drew and Perry Mason.
JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: In one episode after the guilty party had confessed, Perry turned to the judge. And at that moment, I realized that the most important person in that room was the judge. And I wanted to be that person.
GUTHRIE: You wanted to be the most important person in the room?
JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: Everybody has a little ego.
GUTHRIE: That self-assurance and work ethic took her to Princeton, Yale Law School, and the hallowed halls of justice. You take this on with such confidence. Weren’t these intimidating situations?
JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: Oh, gosh. I was filled with fear. When you come from a background like mine where you’re entering worlds that are so different than your own, you have to be afraid.
GUTHRIE: Do you still have that fear?
JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. You should have seen me the first year on the Supreme Court.
GUTHRIE: Is the Supreme Court the kind of place where a person like you could come in and acknowledge to the other justices, this is kind of intimidating?
JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: No. You don’t announce it at a conference. No, you-- you do your job, okay?
GUTHRIE: That job requires Sotomayor to render decisions on the hot-button issues of the day, from gay marriage to affirmative action. Outside of the court, Sotomayor has embraced her public profile as a chance to inspire young kids.
JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: We’re here to tell you all about the word career.
GUTHRIE: But she admits to feeling an occasional tug of regret over never having children of her own. Do you think if you had chosen a different course in your personal life, you would be a Supreme Court Justice?
JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: I don’t know. But I knew that I wanted to be an independent woman with my own career and successful in whatever I chose to do. Could I have that and have had children? Many women do. Can you have it all every minute of the day? No.
GUTHRIE: Divorced since 1983 from her high school sweetheart, today she spends what little free time she has staying fit, watching her beloved Yankees. Fell in love again late in life.
JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: She most certainly did.
GUTHRIE: Do you ever wonder if that might happen for you?
JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: All the time.
GUTHRIE: So where do you take a Supreme Court justice on a date?
JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: I don’t have any idea yet. To have a romance, you have to have time. I’m a justice. I’ve written a book. The guy is going to have to wait until I’m a little bit freer.
GUTHRIE: I wonder what if anything you’re ambitious for now?
JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: I haven’t finished growing yet. I’m young at heart. I’m young in spirit and I’m still adventurous.
GUTHRIE: That she is. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Again her memoir is called “My Beloved World.”
Synopsis: Sonia Sotomayor was born in 1954 in New York City. Her desire to be a judge came from watching a TV show about a lawyer named Perry Mason. She graduated from Yale Law School in 1979. She became a U.S. District Court judge in 1992, a judge on the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 1998 and, in 2009, she became the first Latina Supreme Court Justice in U.S. history.
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