A rags-to-riches story is invariably engaging to most of us, because it highlights the immense possibilities of life. It is also capable of raising our spirits, especially when written in a style that touches the heart. This is why I was fascinated reading the life of a distraught Puerto Rican girl who was raised in the United States, and is now a household name in the country.
Diagnosed as diabetic when she was just eight, she lost her father a year later. Brought up by a single mother - a nurse with a sparse income, and in Bronx, not the best of places to live in New York - the girl was undaunted by poverty and adversity. She was extraordinarily bright and incredibly resolute, which won her scholarships to go to two of the most prestigious Ivy League universities - Princeton and Yale - where she charmed everyone because she came across as God's own creation for affability and modesty. It was therefore no surprise that Sonia Sotomayor (56) was picked last year by President Obama to fill the vacancy in the U.S. Supreme Court arising from Justice David Souter's sudden decision to call it a day.
Sotomayor's credentials were so impeccable that fair play got the better of politics, when Republican leader Senator McCain acknowledged that she was an "immensely qualified candidate" with an "inspiring and compelling" life story.
Sotomayor was Assistant District Attorney for five years before taking up lucrative private practice. She gave it up in 1991 when she was appointed by President Bush to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, a very heavy charge. And this paved the way for her nomination in 1997 to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit - this time, by President Clinton. That a Republican President and a Democratic President plumped for her successively to fill key judicial posts speaks volumes for her merit, political neutrality, and wide acceptability. To cap it all, President Obama, for his part, elevated her last year to the exclusive 'Club of 9'.
Sotomayor does not conceal the fact that she was nervous when she started off as a judge. She was not sure that she knew the law as well as she was expected to. Soon she realised that many of her colleagues were in the same boat, and that one learnt on the Bench.
What is most striking is the report that, unlike many others on the Bench, Sotomayor made everyone - lawyers as well as the accused standing trial - most comfortable. Of course, as a Federal Judge in New York, she was demanding and did not spare anyone who appeared before her unprepared to present his (or her) case.
When President Obama started scouting around for a replacement for Justice Souter, he said: "I will look for those judges who have an outstanding judicial record. [and] have a sense of what real-world folks are going through." As the third woman - after Sandra Day O'Conor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg - to adorn the Supreme Court, Sotomayor fills that bill eminently. She is bound to bring the impress of her empathy with the needy and the neglected when she agrees or disagrees with her eight brethren, who I am sure regard her as a value addition beyond compare. Felix writes with felicity and intense feeling. I am impressed by his eye for detail and his anxiety to write a prose that does not tire the reader.
R.K. Raghavan in The Hindu