Videotaped Remarks Shed Light on Sotomayor

Charlie Savage, San Francisco Chronicle, June 11, 2009

Judge Sonia Sotomayor once described herself as “a product of affirmative action” who was admitted to two Ivy League schools despite scoring lower on standardized tests than many classmates, which she attributed to “cultural biases” that are “built into testing.”

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Those comments were among a trove of videos dating back nearly 25 years that shed new light on Sotomayor’s views. She provided the videos to the Senate Judiciary Committee last week as it prepares for her Supreme Court confirmation hearing next month.

The clips include lengthy remarks about her experiences as an “affirmative action baby” whose lower test scores were overlooked by admissions committees at Princeton University and Yale Law School because, she said, she is Latino and had grown up in poor circumstances.

“If we had gone through the traditional numbers route of those institutions, it would have been highly questionable if I would have been accepted,” she said on a panel of three female judges from New York who were discussing women in the judiciary. The video is dated “early 1990s” in Senate records.

Her comments came in the context of explaining why she thought it was “critical that we promote diversity” by appointing more women and minority judges, and they provoked objections among other panelists who pointed out that she graduated summa cum laude from Princeton and had been an editor on Yale’s law journal.

But Sotomayor insisted that her test scores were subpar–“though not so far off the mark that I wasn’t able to succeed at those institutions.” Her scores have not been made public.

“With my academic achievement in high school I was accepted rather readily at Princeton and equally as fast at Yale, but my test scores were not comparable to that of my classmates,” she said. “And that’s been shown by statistics, there are reasons for that–there are cultural biases built into testing, and that was one of the motivations for the concept of affirmative action to try to balance out those effects.”

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