Oprah Talks to Sonia Sotomayor
SS: I love Carlos.
O: He said that you carry the hopes and aspirations of more than 50 million people. That's a lot of pressure. Do you feel that?
O: You do.
SS: I didn't think I would. Mostly because at first, I didn't think it was true. I didn't understand it until after I became a justice. Now when I talk to kids, I often tell them, "I'm going to disappoint you someday. I won't be worth my salt as a judge if I don't render at least one decision that makes you unhappy. Because if I'm following the law—and I don't write them—there has to be some decision you won't like. Please don't judge any person by one act. Take from them the good and don't concentrate on the little things that make you unhappy." That's my approach to family and friends, too.
O: You write in your book about your marriage, after you graduated Princeton, to your high school sweetheart, Kevin Noonan. I love the story about how he gave you a rose every day for the first month you were dating—and you later found out the roses had come from your aunt's garden. You divorced in 1983 and remain friends. Why did it end, do you think?
SS: When you marry young, you run the risk that you'll grow in different directions. I was completely consumed with work when I started as a D.A. in Manhattan, and I really wasn't paying attention to [my husband]. I take full responsibility for that part of the end. But he also, as he later explained to me, began to fear not being as successful as I was. And that led him to think, "Does she really need me?" I loved him and I knew he loved me. But did I need him in the way he wanted me to need him? He was probably right that I didn't.
O: Men, as a rule, want to be needed in the way he's talking about. And I think it takes a special kind of man to be with a woman like you.
SS: I fear, yes.
O: So, next question, how does one date when one is a Supreme Court justice?
SS: I have no idea, because I haven't been able to since I became one!
O: Talk about intimidating—good Lord! Lots of women—from Gayle to other friends—say, "Am I intimidating to men?" But when you're a Supreme Court justice, that's pretty damn intimidating!
SS: I worry about that, let me tell you. Since I was nominated and confirmed, I've been completely drowning in my work. But at some point I'll pick up my head and say, "It's time to date again." When I do that, you've got to find the guy for me.
O: You gotta get in line with a long list of women! [Laughs.]
GAYLE KING: [Off to the side, listening.] Get behind me, Justice!
O: Do you and the other justices hang out? Do justices hang?
SS: Well, we don't go to a local bar on Fridays and drink the night away. But we spend a lot of time together during the workweek. Not only are we in court all the time, we have lunch together, we attend a lot of dinners—I spend more time with my justice friends than I've ever spent with other colleagues. We do socialize. My colleagues like the opera; I'm more of a jazz fanatic. But occasionally we play cards together. So yes, we do hang out, just in a quieter way.
O: What is a typical day like?
SS: Boy, would it be boring for most people! It involves research, thinking, and writing. We write all the time, whether it's opinions or memos to our colleagues on legal issues that we're discussing, trying to persuade the others to change their minds—and sometimes being successful.
O: Is this the most fun you've ever had, being on the Supreme Court? Is it everything you imagined it to be?
SS: [Pauses.] No. I loved my life as a district court and circuit court judge. There, I could be more me. I could go out with friends and not think twice about it. Some of my girlfriends could tell those stories. I won't let them, but—
O: You could go dancing and take off your shoes if you wanted to.
SS: And nobody took pictures. Nobody cared. And I loved my work then. That's not to suggest I'm unhappy now. It's a wonderful life and I'm doing things I never imagined and providing an example that I never thought people would find useful. And that's important. I don't want it to sound as if I'm ungrateful, because I'm not. I'm very, very grateful. But you asked me a particular question—
O: Is this the most fun you've ever had?
SS: And the answer, truthfully, is no. The life I gave up was the most fun I ever had.
O: So what becomes your greatest aspiration when you sit on the highest court in the land?
SS: I've gone further than I ever dreamed. I'm not applying for another job for the rest of my life. You couldn't get me to go through another confirmation hearing for anything. I don't have a professional aspiration. But I do have a personal one: I want to continue growing as a person. I want to reach out more to people, learn more from them. Ultimately, I would like to be a great justice that people remember with respect and fondness. Decisions are meaningful, and I hope I write some that will last through the ages. But I hope that I'm remembered by others because I touched them in a meaningful way.
O: Have you ever made a decision from the bench and then later thought differently about it?
SS: Yes. I had a couple of cases as a judge on the trial bench where I imposed sentences and later regretted I hadn't imposed lighter ones.
O: Any other regrets?
SS: I don't remember telling my father I loved him. And I wish I had.
O: Thank you for this time, Justice. It's been an honor.
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