Justice Sotomayor stood up to prejudice about affirmative action at Yale Law School

In her book “My Beloved World,” Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor pulls no punches in stating her vigorous defense of affirmative action as a “door opener” for disadvantaged minority youth that would never have had a chance to attend the elite institutions she was able to attend – and where she excelled.

While Sotomayor was at Yale Law School, she attended a recruiting dinner by a prestigious law firm.  One of the partners asked her what she thought of affirmative action, and she said she believed in it.

“Don’t you think it’s a disservice to minorities, hiring them without the necessary credentials?” the partner asks, according to her book.  Sotomayor described herself as “stunned” at the “rude interrogation.”   The partner proceeded to ask her if she thought she would have been accepted into Yale Law School had she not been Puerto Rican.

“It probably didn’t hurt,” Sotomayor told the partner, also adding, “But I imagine that graduating summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Princeton had something to do with it too,” she said.  When the man asked if she felt “culturally deprived,” Sotomayor said she – and other students – felt  very insulted.

Sotomayor relates how she decided to file a formal complaint to the firm through the university.  A student/faculty tribunal investigated the incident and got an apology from the law firm.

The first Latina Supreme Court Justice goes on to say “when the anger, the upset and the agitation had passed, a certainty remained:  I had no need to apologize that the look-wider, search-more affirmative action that Princeton and Yale practiced had opened doors for me.  That was its purpose: to create the conditions whereby students from disadvantaged backgrounds could be brought to the starting line of a race many were unaware was even being run.”  

Sotomayor says much has changed about affirmative action, but she says one thing has not changed: “to doubt the worth of minority students’ achievement when they succeed is really only to present another face of the prejudice that insists all those destined for success must be cast from the same mold as those who have succeeded before them, a view that experience has already proven a fallacy.”

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