Sotomayor overcame poverty, and then elitist disdain, with stubbornness and cheer

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Yesterday I did a post that praised Sonia Sotomayor and sharply criticized Laurence Tribe’s elitism. The issue here is the decadence of the meritocracy; and I realized I had never published this post I wrote in September, after seeing Sotomayor’s August speech to the University of Denver Law School on CSpan that crystallizes the progressive values of diversity that Sotomayor represents–and my own education in these values. From September 1:

I missed Sonia Sotamayor’s confirmation hearings, I made a snap judgment that I wasn’t interested, and I see that it was both classist and racist. Yesterday I saw her on CSpan and was blown away. I think she could be Obama’s Souter, a great humanistic humble judge. Her intelligence and spirit are awesome but most of all her emotional intelligence, her self-awareness and regard for other human beings.

She spoke to a Denver audience and most of the questions were personal, touchy-feely. How did you get where you did, how do you feel about being a justice.

Her answers were direct and riveting.

There was not one moment of posturing or pretense or legalism or stiffness. Compare her to any justice on the court, it was astonishing. What did she say? I didn’t write it down, but she said that she had felt like an outsider at Princeton from the moment she got there and had never felt that she truly belonged. She knew she was different, from a class standpoint and a racial standpoint, and she was treated different. The sense of difference was deeply wounding to her, it was clear even now. Even today she feels that she is a little bit different. But she has come to terms with her alienation, by telling herself, It’s OK that I’m here.

“That’s where I’m at today, it’s OK.”

She told the students that it was a dream that she’s on the Supreme Court that has never ended, she still doesn’t believe it. She told them that she had overcome poverty by pure stubbornness, by working two jobs, and researching every scholarship she could find, including one for juvenile diabetics. She said that David Souter had advised her, wisely, Sonia, you will have many differences on this curt but your job will be a lot easier if you approach it with the idea that the people you are clashing with have good faith, they may be wrong, but they’re not acting out of sinister motives. (Wish I could absorb that idea).

She is obviously a listener and a humanist. Wrongly, I thought of her as an affirmative action hire. I will learn my lesson, and look for leadership from this judge…

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