Justice Sonia Sotomayor, speaking to a full house at Notre Dame University Wednesday, characterized herself as the Supreme Court’s consummate outsider. She is so much an outsider, in fact, that at one point Sotomayor described herself as being stuck outside her own body—at least for a year and a half after she was tapped for the highest court in the land.
Sotomayor can be at her most poignant when she is trying to explain what it is that makes her feel so different from her colleagues, whom she respects and admires. Her dissenting opinion in a Michigan affirmative action case from last year was the most striking example of an effort to show us that her experiences make her fundamentally unlike many Americans who have occupied the federal bench. Her take on it this week at Notre Dame was a variation on that theme. “I’m very different from my colleagues,” she explained, adding that she’s generally more public and outspoken than her colleagues at the court.
“I am different, and yet I’m not because we’re all engaged in the same enterprise. We’re all trying to come to the right decisions together, and we’re all part of that conversation,” she said. “To that extent, I belong. But will I ever quite feel that I have their same background, their same understanding of the world that I operate on? Not really.”
That’s what happens when you are an affirmative action hire.