Justice Sonia Sotomayor Recalls Tearful Exchange With President Barack Obama

The Supreme Court Justice regales the Estefans with stories from her Bronx upbringing and her historic appointment to SCOTUS.

Red Table Talk: The Estefans closed out its 2020 season with none other than Justice Sonia Sotomayor. After a string of episodes that have tackled everything from divorce, mental health and grief, Gloria, Lili and Emily Estefan welcomed the Supreme Court Justice for an inspirational episode celebrating the first Hispanic member of the Court. 

Joining the red table virtually from Washington, D.C, the Bronx native talked at length about the hardships she endured growing up, her tenure on the Supreme Court and what she’s learned over the years.

Looking back at her historic nomination in 2009, Justice Sotomayor shared that, at the time, she didn’t actually think President Barack Obama would pick her.

“Everyone else who was on his shortlist had been interviewed,” she recalls. “And I wasn’t being interviewed. I thought, gee, maybe I’m just there for show.”

If that twinkle of insecurity feels out of character, it’s only because the esteemed Princeton graduate (summa cum laude no less) projects confidence and strength, often and especially during times when she second-guesses herself.

And yes, she admits that initial phone call from Obama punctured her steely exterior. “I did something I hardly, if ever, do. I’m a tough Bronx kid. I don’t cry and I said to him, 'Mr. President, I’m crying.' And he said, 'Judge, you don’t have to cry. I’m putting together the best team to get you through the confirmation process.'"

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If there’s one lesson she took from that process, she shared, was the conviction that relying on others and seeking help need not be a mark of weakness but a test of one’s own strength. After suffering blowback and criticism during the confirmation hearings, she considered pulling out. That is, until she confided in a close friend.

“‘Sonia, get over yourself,’” she remembers being told. “‘This is not about you. This is about my daughter. She needs to see a Latina as a Supreme Court Justice. You can’t give up.’” 

Whether talking about coping with the death of her father when she was just a little girl, dealing with her diabetes diagnosis over the years, or getting over her divorce, Sotomayor stressed time and time again the way she’s relied on others to stay afloat. 

“I think the greatest secret to the success of my life is not being ashamed of asking for help," she notes. "And it's my hope that if anyone is listening to me today, that they understand how important a characteristic that is: to not only not be ashamed of asking for help, but also to do it.”

Having served on the Supreme Court for more than a decade now, Sotomayor offered up stories both big and small about an experience shared by only a handful of people. She recounted her first day on the job and the honor it was to be welcomed to the Court by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, discussed what kind of fan mail she gets from certain older men, and even answered a young girl’s question about whether she has to dress up underneath those robes.

The episode closed out with an intimate rendition of “For Sonia,” a song Emily had composed for Justice Sotomayor, and which she publicly performed for the first time. The soulful piano ballad, which Sotomayor admitted makes her mother cry every time they play it at home, is a touching celebration of this trailblazing Latina.

"This is what an American looks like," Emily sings. "She is everything your daughter could be."

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