11 Sonia Sotomayor Quotes We Can All Learn From
Even before she joined the Supreme Court, Justice Sonia Sotomayor established herself as a person ready and willing to take a strong stance and refuse to back down. It's unsurprising, then, that looking across her career, you can find numerous quotes from Sotomayor that will inspire you and make you think about things in a totally different way.
Sotomayor was an Obama nominee for the Supreme Court, but before that, she was the daughter of a Puerto Rican family that moved to the Bronx, according to Biography.com. Driven by a mother who pushed them fervently towards higher education and her own desire to become a judge, Sotomayor went to Princeton and rose to the top of her class both there and, later, at Yale Law School.
Even before reading what she has to say, you can already let yourself be inspired by her life story. As a child, the Washington Post wrote, she taught herself to administer her own insulin shots. She faced slurs for being Hispanic, but she later became the first Latina to ever sit on the Supreme Court. She may have an Ivy League pedigree, but she certainly doesn't come from the typical background of a Supreme Court justice — and you can see evidence of her background in many of the following quotes.
1. On Succeeding With Help
Sotomayor said this at an NYU commencement address she gave in 2012, while advising graduates to put as much into building their relationships as they do into building their careers.
2. On Defining Your Own Worth
Sotomayor said this during a discussion of affirmative action — and why she supports it — with NPR in 2013. She benefitted from it in getting admitted to Princeton, she said, and she's also attempted to protect the policy while on the court.
3. On Equality And Education
Sotomayor often talks about the importance of education for everyone — and affirmative action, for her, is an important part of that.
"We are never going to reach equality in America until we achieve equality in education," she said at an event at the Aspen Institute in 2017. "That’s why we’re unequal in this society, and it’s what we need to change if we want all people equal — not just under law — but in participation in society."
4. On Succeeding Without Confidence
This quote comes from Sotomayor's memoir, My Beloved World. She says that it was a lesson that she learned from her mother — and it's also a good message for anyone who's ever felt any whiffs of imposter syndrome to hear.
5. On Responding To Discrimination
In her interview with NPR, Sotomayor told reporter Nina Totenberg she said this in response to a recruiter after he had asked her, at a long ago networking event, if the reason she got into Yale Law School was her Puerto Rican heritage. She confronted him about his statement the next day, and he rolled out another stereotype in saying he was surprised she hadn't made a scene upon hearing his comment. This quote was her response to that.
6. On Working Through Fear
Sotomayor offered this quote as "advice for that young Latino kid who's just getting through school and thinking of quitting, or a young single mother who doesn't know where to turn," when she was prompted to give that advice in an interview with The Progressive in 2013.
7. On Stating The Obvious
When Forbes asked Sotomayor about the role that women's groups played in the justice's life, she said that "without women’s groups knocking on doors, I wouldn’t have gotten where I am. We need women to support each other. We still don’t have equal pay.”
8. On Why Race Matters
Sotomayor wrote the dissent in Schuette v. Bamn in 2013, which upheld a Michigan referendum that got rid of affirmative action at state universities. Her quote about why race matters is long, but it's worth reading in full:
Race matters for reasons that really are only skin deep, that cannot be discussed any other way, and that cannot be wished away. Race matters to a young man’s view of society when he spends his teenage years watching others tense up as he passes, no matter the neighborhood where he grew up. Race matters to a young woman’s sense of self when she states her hometown, and then is pressed, “No, where are you really from?”, regardless of how many generations her family has been in the country. Race matters to a young person addressed by a stranger in a foreign language, which he does not understand because only English was spoken at home. Race matters because of the slights, the snickers, the silent judgments that reinforce that most crippling of thoughts: “I do not belong here.”
9. On What To Expect In Life
In her commencement address at NYU, Sotomayor gave the new graduates some advice about what to expect in the future.
"Look, disappointment and uncertainty are constant companions in life's pursuits," she said. "Being a little frightened is natural and unavoidable."
10. On Wise Latinas
“I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life,” Sotomayor said at a lecture at UC Berkeley in 2001. During her confirmation process in 2009, this comment caused controversy, as conservative senators argued it was evidence that her ethnicity and gender would bias the way she interpreted the law, as CNN explained at the time.
In response, Sotomayor stressed that it was "a rhetorical flourish that fell flat" and that the aim of the speech had been to encourage the Latinx students she was talking to "believe that they can become anything that they wanted to become, just as I had," according to The Washington Post.
11. On Forgetting The Real World
If you just follow the Supreme Court in the news, it can be easy to forget that their decisions don't just touch on individuals, or individual cases. In many cases, they affect millions of Americans' lives in myriad ways — and Sotomayor made it clear in the speech she gave when Obama nominated her that she hadn't forgotten that. However, the advice isn't just good for Supreme Court justices:
I strive never to forget the real world consequences of my decisions on individuals, businesses and government.
Sotomayor, as a Supreme Court justice, has plenty of opportunities to speak and write publicly and a platform that allows people to easily find her words. And as these quotes have shown, her words are always worth listening to.