Sonia Sotomayor’s Big Day

By Jacqueline Klingebiel

Sep 25, 2009 11:00am

With the first Monday in October just around the corner, Justice Sonia Sotomayor sat for an interview with  C-Span’s Susan Swain and reveals the dramatic tale of how she came to learn that she was being nominated to the Supreme Court:

SWAIN: I believe this might be the first time that you sat down with television since your appointment was announced. I’m wondering if you would mind, for history, telling us the story of when you got the telephone call?

SOTOMAYOR: I was told that Monday that the President would – I had been told all weekend that the president would be making up his mind, making his decision sometime on Monday, and I had been sitting in my office from 8:00 that morning waiting for a phone call. The phone calls I got instead were from my family telling me, or asking me what was happening, and I was getting the calls almost hourly. And almost – and every hour I would say, ‘I don’t know.’ Two o’clock was arriving and my family had been told that they would have to start moving to the airport shortly, and so they were more and more anxious about whether they should be going to the airport or not and my response was, ‘I don’t know.’

Finally, at about 5:00 p.m., they’re at the airports and they’re still calling asking me whether they should get on the planes, and my response was ‘I still don’t know. If they haven’t pulled you back, I guess you should.’ My brother calls me from, I think its Baltimore, he had to make a stop at Baltimore and then take a shuttle over to Washington and he says, should I keep going? I said, ‘if they haven’t told you to stop you should.’

It’s now nearly 7:00 in the evening, and I call the White House and say, ‘Well you’re getting my family to Washington, have any of you given any thought about how I’m going to get there?" And they stopped and said, ‘Oh I guess we should figure that out, shouldn’t we?’ Literally that was the response. What I was told was that the president had gotten distracted with some important other business that was going on at the time, and that he would call me at about 8:00 p.m. but that I should go home and pack to come to Washington, and that they would prefer that I didn’t take a plane.

So I rushed out of my office, home, put a suitcase on top of my bed, and with my assistant, Theresa, who had come home with me, we started packing a suitcase, and I called a friend to ask him to drive me to Washington. And he came, or was on his way, and at 8:10 p.m. I received a call at my – on my cell phone. The White House operator tells you that the president is on the line.

SWAIN: And you were somewhere on the road at this point?

SOTOMAYOR: Nope, I was in …

SWAIN: Still at home.

SOTOMAYOR: Still at home, still packing. I actually stood by my balcony doors, and I had the – my cell phone in my right hand and I had my left hand over my chest trying to calm my beating heart, literally. And the president got on the phone and said to me, ‘Judge, I would like to announce you as my selection to be the next Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court.’

And I said to him–I caught my breath and started to cry and said, ‘Thank you, Mr. President.’ That was what the moment was like.

SWAIN: And then what?

SOTOMAYOR: He asked me to make him two promises. The first was to remain the person I was, and the second was to stay connected to my community. And I said to him that those were two easy promises to make, because those two things I could not change. And he then said we would see each other in the morning. Which we obviously did.

SWAIN: And did you in fact drive?

SOTOMAYOR: Uh-hmm.

SWAIN: What was that drive like?

SOTOMAYOR: Well, it was – it went very quickly in parts because I was working the entire time on my speech for the next day, so I had a draft that they had told me to anticipate making a speech, so I had a draft, but I was still working on it.

SWAIN: It’s about – for most people watching this who aren’t from this part of the country, it’s about four hours plus from New York to Washington?

SOTOMAYOR: It took us a little longer because it started to – a torrential rain started on the drive and it knocked out our GPS, and so we got lost and all of sudden I’m in Virginia and looking up because I had been scrambling on the piece of paper – scribbling on the piece of paper and making changes and all of a sudden I look up and I look at my friend and say, ‘Tom, we’re not going into Washington, we’re going away from Washington, we’d better stop.’ So we pulled over on a road and I started calling up a friend and saying please get on the computer and figure out how we get back to where we have to go. And I had a law clerk who was also – my law clerks and my staff and my assistant and everybody had been driving down in separate cars, and he was from Washington and he actually talked us back onto the road and to the hotel.

So it was a very busy five and a half, close to six hours between the rain and getting lost, it was a very eventful night.

SWAIN: It sounds like it, not much sleep before the next day.

SOTOMAYOR: No, we arrived in Washington at 2:30 a.m. I practiced my speech for an hour. The last thing I did before I went to bed was to reread it and try to commit it again to memory. And three hours later when I got up, the first thing I did was to give the speech without the papers in front of me and when I was able to do that I said, I got it. And then I was able to shower and get dressed comfortably.

- George Stephanopoulos

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