“The Education of Sonia Sotomayor”

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That is the title of this essay at the WaPo written by one of Judge Sotomayor’s Princeton profs. Below are a couple of excerpts:

… Had I known in the spring of 1973 that this hesitant freshman from the Bronx would be nominated to the Supreme Court 36 years later, I would have taken detailed notes on our conversations and filed them away in anticipation. Unfortunately, all I have are my memories. But Sonia made a strong impression. She was not the best student I taught in my seven years at Princeton — though she certainly was high on the list — but she was the one who took greatest advantage of the opportunities there and emerged most transformed by her experience. …

… By her senior year, Sonia was ready to write about the most important Puerto Rican leader and issue of the 20th century: Luis Muñoz Marin and the status of Puerto Rico. Her thesis was extremely ambitious and one of the longest I have supervised, but it was the best paper she had ever written.

I read it again recently, and I would still give it an A. It is clearly conceptualized, solidly researched, incisively analyzed, persuasively argued and very well written, with pithy summaries of her arguments that she could still be proud of today — whether in a published article or a judicial opinion.

Since her nomination to the Supreme Court, however, a couple of marginal phrases in her 178-page paper have been taken out of context by critics, particularly her mention in the preface of her “bias toward independence for Puerto Rico.” What she actually wrote was that her thesis would not reflect that bias, and that unlike most studies of Muñoz Marin, her examination of the commonwealth he founded would not be colored by her own preferences.

Moreover, I must take responsibility for her mention of a “bias.” I taught Sonia that people often have strong opinions on issues that they care enough about to research, but what is critical is that they recognize those biases and set them aside. That is what Sonia did in her senior thesis. I still think it is a best practice for a student — or a judge. …

–Ann Bartow

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