WASHINGTON – Sonia Sotomayor's divorce, lack of a social life and feelings about presiding over older male lawyers were all parts of a fascinating early 1990's television interview with President Obama's Supreme Court nominee.
The video is part of the multi-media cache of information that was recently handed over to the Senate Judiciary Committee. It offers a personal self-assessment from a woman who shortly after becoming a federal judge, explained with a calm and resigned voice the personal sacrifices she made to achieve professional success.
"I have found it difficult to maintain a relationship while I've pursued my career," Sotomayor said.
The interview took place shortly after Sotomayor became a federal trial court judge and she was joined by two other female judges who shared their thoughts about a variety of legal and social issues, but it the observations of Sotomayor long before she became a Supreme Court nominee that are captivating.
The most personal part of the discussion was Sotomayor's acknowledgement that her inability to strike a different balance between her professional and personal lives was a key factor in her failed marriage. "I cannot attribute that divorce to work," she said. " But certainly the fact that I was leaving my home at 7:00am and getting back at 10:00pm was not of assistance in recognizing the problems developing in my marriage."
At the time of the interview, Sotomayor said she had not been involved in another relationship since her divorce. However, just a few later at her 1997 confirmation hearing to sit on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, Sotomayor introduced a fiancée but the two never married and there is no record of a significant relationship since. She has no children.
"I know for me finding personal time is enormously difficult. Finding sleep time is sometimes even more difficult," she said in the early 1990's video.
She said reaching the bench was a fulfillment of a lifelong goal. "I wanted to be a judge since childhood," and noted her good fortune at getting her judicial ropes at such a young age. She was 38 years old. Sotomayor believes she benefited from a congressional mandate to increase the number of federal judgeships.
Sotomayor also acknowledge that though not by design her work as a prosecutor was instrumental in becoming a judge because senators had pressed her hard on her knowledge of criminal law. She explained her decision as a young lawyer to join the New York County District Attorney's Office. "I just was fascinated by the potential work. And it turned out to be true that criminal work was stimulating and it would teach me how to most effectively analyze factual situations and apply them to legal principles."
After spending four and a half years as an assistant prosecutor, Sotomayor took on a number of positions before joining a small New York law firm specializing in international commercial litigation where she would represent Italian clothing companies in trademark disputes. "I left the criminal area because I wanted a broader experience personally in terms of lawyering." She said her job at Pavia & Harcourt was a wonderful job that expanded her horizons.
But in 1992, after only four years in private practice, with the backing of former Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY), Sotomayor was appointed to the federal bench by President George H.W. Bush. It is unclear how much time had passed between when Sotomayor first wore her judicial robe and when the video was made but it appears to be no more than a couple of years.
Nonetheless, it was enough time for her to make an observation about the way lawyers behaved in her courtroom. Sotomayor was specifically asked if female lawyers were more disposed to histrionics in her presence. “Actually not, and perhaps it may be a product of my age; I have found that to be the case in reverse with older men towards me. And that may be more a paternal attitude than anything else," Sotomayor noted. "So I have received lectures from older male attorneys."
Sotomayor's defined older male attorneys as "gentlemen who look like they may be over the age of 50." If confirmed Sotomayor will sit next to seven men who irrespective of what one assumes about their looks are indeed older than 50.