The future came face to face with living history on Jan. 30th at Chicago’s Harold Washington Public Library when Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor embraced 7-year-old Tabbie Major of Austin during a question and answer session following a discussion of Sotomayor’s memoir, My Beloved World.
Sotomayor, the 111th justice and first of Hispanic descent, appeared to discuss her book before a crowd of 750 people who had traveled from all over Chicago to attend this free event. Near the end of the event, Sotomayor answered randomly chosen questions submitted by attendees prior to the discussion.
As luck would have it, Tabbie’s question was the second one answered. She asked the justice, “When you were 7, what did you like to read?”
Excited by the question, Sotomayor asked the questioner to stand, and from across the room, Tabbie ran into Sotomayor’s arms and was tightly embraced while her question was answered.
“When I was 7, I liked to read Nancy Drew,” Sotomayor replied, “I liked that she solved mysteries and drove around in a little blue sports car. When I became a judge, I bought myself a little red sports car.”
After the event, Sotomayor asked Tabbie and her mother, Tammy Major, to wait and speak with her. She also presented Tabbie with an autographed copy of her book. The two chatted like old friends.
Tabbie and her mother just happened to be at the library that day returning books. “It was our cultural day,” Major said who is home schooling her daughter. “We planned to return the books and look for one I have been searching for and head back to the Oak Park Library to do some work,” she added.
Major said her daughter, who, through her readings, is very familiar with Sotomayor saw the sign and asked if they could stay and see her. Major said she was hesitant to stay because it was 1 p.m., and the line for tickets to the 6 p.m. event was already extremely long.
“I asked the guard how many tickets there were, and he said 500. Since there were not 500 people in the line, we decided to stay,” Major said.
Justice Sotomayor, a native of the Bronx in New York City and a proud Puerto Rican, is the third woman appointed to the Supreme Court. She also has the distinction of being appointed to three federal judiciary posts by three different presidents. In 2009, President Obama appointed her to her current post. In 1991, President George H. Bush nominated her to the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York, and in 1997, President Bill Clinton nominated her to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
Prior to judicial service, Sotomayor worked as a New York assistant district attorney. After leaving that office she had a private practice where she focused on Latino affairs.
Sotomayor, a graduate of Yale Law School, also served as editor of Yale’s Law Journal.
To a captivated crowd, Sotomayor read chapters from her book, which recounts events in her life including her estranged relationship with her alcoholic father and the anger she held against him for years. At the end of each exert, she would reflect on its meaning and add words of advice.
She said in response to one question that one of her greatest regrets is that she did not forgive her father before his death and that she held anger against her mother for so long.
Detailing the joy she shared talking and spending time with her grandmother prior to her death, she said, “Take the time to capture your family history. Ask them to tell you the story of your family while they can. Ask them about their feelings. They will tell you something no one else will.”
Sotomayor was asked if there were times in her life when she felt afraid. In response she reflected on her times as a justice on the Court of Appeals.
“When I was on the Court of Appeals, I was careful in making my decisions, but I always knew there was a higher court for them to go to if I had made an error. Now, I am the higher court.” She added, “Yes, I have fear, but I worked through it all in spite of the fear. When I was afraid in life, I just kept going.”