By Jay Conley
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s busy weekend may have culminated Monday with attending President Barack Obama’s inauguration ceremony and administering the oath of office to Vice President Joe Biden. But it was Ms. Sotomayor who was at the center of attention Friday night at a packed gathering in GW’s Lisner Auditorium, where she held a book signing and discussed her reasons for writing her newly published memoir “My Beloved World.” The event was presented by Politics and Prose Bookstore.
From the evening’s start, Ms. Sotomayor reinforced her reputation as one of the most approachable Supreme Court justices to ever sit on the high court. After taking the stage and receiving a standing ovation, Ms. Sotomayor announced to the audience that she would walk the aisles of the auditorium as she read passages from her book.
“I want to feel closer to you, and I hate being this far away,” she said.
Ms. Sotomayor added that anyone who reads her book and feels inclined to contact her is welcome. “It might take me a while, but I do answer every letter that is sent to me.”
Ms. Sotomayor said she wrote the book in large part to inspire others to pursue and achieve their goals. She grew up in a Bronx, N.Y., housing project, was raised by a Puerto Rican mother and grandmother, and was accepted into Princeton University under an affirmative action program. She went on to Yale Law School and was a New York District Court judge and a U.S. Court of Appeals judge before becoming the first Hispanic to be appointed to the Supreme Court in 2009.
“Yes, someone like me can do this,” she said.
Her ability to succeed, Ms. Sotomayor told the audience, was born out of both a desire to seek out knowledge and a perseverance to accomplish goals, despite various setbacks.
“I don’t think you can live life without failure,” she said. “You get up and you try again. Stubbornness, that’s a big message in this book. Keep trying.”
Ms. Sotomayor also stressed that success is often based on asking for help when you need it and taking the time to prepare for whatever task one is undertaking.
“I don’t do anything where I don’t prepare, prepare, prepare to be ready,” Ms. Sotomayor said. “I want to be the best justice I can be. I’m working really hard to try to do that.”
Ms. Sotomayor’s relationship with her family is also a big part of her memoir. While writing the book during summers when she was on vacation from the Supreme Court, Ms. Sotomayor said she researched her genealogy and found out much more about her family than she ever could have imagined.
“I strongly encourage you, while they’re still alive, to really talk to the people you love,” she said.
During a question-and-answer period toward the end of the evening, Ms. Sotomayor summed up her views of the country’s legal system.
“I’m passionate about the law. Too many people forget, what lawyering is about is helping people solve problems,” she said. “I love the law. I’m passionate about it. I’m passionate about this country, our constitution, about our democracy and about public service.”