Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor spoke candidly about her experiences as an undergraduate student Monday, styling herself an ideal beneficiary of affirmative action.
Speaking to a student assembly at Michigan State University’s convocation, the justice discussed the challenges of diversity and inclusion, which increasingly define her public profile outside the high court’s official business.
“I was the perfect affirmative action child,” the justice told students according to local media, echoing remarks she has made in other venues. She went on to explain that the circumstances of her admission were less relevant than her subsequent record of academic accomplishment.
“The question is not, ‘how did I get in?’” she said. “It’s ‘what did I do when I got there?’ And with pride, I can say I graduated at the top of my class.”
In her 2014 memoir “My Beloved World,” Sotomayor described her struggles acclimating to life at Princeton as an undergraduate, where she gravitated toward a budding group of Hispanic students pursuing a course of study in Latin American topics. (RELATED: Kavanaugh Calls Roe ‘Settled Law’ In Private Meeting With Susan Collins)
Sotomayor has spoken forcefully about race-based admission in the past. One of her most famous writings on the Court was her 2014 dissent in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, in which she lambasted a six-justice majority that upheld an amendment to Michigan’s state constitution banning the use of race-conscious admissions policies.
Her dissent attacked the view that affirmative action is more harmful than helpful in peppery terms.
“[I]t ignores the importance of diversity in institutions of higher education and reveals how little my colleagues understand about the reality of race in America,” Sotomayor wrote.
In his 2008 memoir “My Grandfather’s Son,” Sotomayor’s colleague Justice Clarence Thomas took a different view, lamenting that his degree from Yale Law School “bore the taint of racial preference.” He attached a price sticker from a cigar box to his law degree, setting its value at 15 cents.
Thomas has since mended his once icy relationship to his alma mater. He returned to the law school with Sotomayor and Justice Samuel Alito for an event in 2014.
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