On Book-Tour Circuit, Sotomayor Sees a New Niche for a Justice

Jodi Kantor, New York Times, February 3, 2013

At her Wednesday night book talk here, Justice Sonia Sotomayor glided through her audience of 700, dispensing homespun wisdom through a cordless microphone, interrupted by impromptu applause.

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Welcome to another night in the life of Sonia Sotomayor, Supreme Court justice, current queen of the best-seller list and suddenly the nation’s most high-profile Hispanic figure. She may be a relative newcomer to national life, plucked from circuit-court obscurity less than four years ago. But the release of her new memoir, “My Beloved World,” suggests that she has broader ambitions than her colleagues, to play a larger and more personal role on the public stage.

Prior generations of justices mostly hid behind their robes to preserve their authority, and some current members of the court seem more like legal technicians, dispassionately adjusting the law. {snip}

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Other justices draw large crowds (particularly Antonin Scalia, known for his cheerfully pugnacious pronouncements) and have written No. 1 best sellers (as Clarence Thomas did in 2007). But Justice Sotomayor’s readings have the air of celebratory happenings, attended by entire families, people who left work early to line up for tickets and acolytes who quote her recent interviews from memory.

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In a backstage interview at the library where she appeared here, Justice Sotomayor said that encouraging others through her personal story—the diabetic child of a poor, non-English-speaking alcoholic, the first Hispanic member of the Court—was an even more important contribution than her jurisprudence.

“It is my great hope that I’ll be a great justice, and that I’ll write opinions that will last the ages,” she said as she signed her way through giant stalagmites of books. “But that doesn’t always happen. More importantly, it’s only one measure of meaning in life. To me, the more important one is my values and my impact on people who feel inspired in any way by me.”

Serving as a role model “is the most valuable thing I can do,” she added.

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“I would like there to be no child in America who grows up not knowing what the Supreme Court is,” she said. (She did not know it existed until she snatched minutes from her work-study job at the Princeton library to read reports of the 1978 Bakke case, in which the court struck down an affirmative action program at the University of California.)

She also seems aware that she is perhaps the foremost face of what might be called the current Latino moment, when the demographic group has received credit for helping re-elect Mr. Obama, who is now pushing for an overhaul of immigration laws.

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