“When I was nominated to the Supreme Court I was really scared,” Justice Sotomayor told me in Spanish. “This is a huge job. But who lives life free of fear? I have often told myself, ‘I don’t want to do this job.’” I wasn’t sure I could get it right. And I was very, very close to saying no to the president of the United States. But some friends heard that I was having second thoughts, and one of them told me: ‘Hey, Sonia, stop thinking about you. This is not about you. This is about all those little girls who will see you in that role.’”
Girls like 10-year-old Sophie, who was listening intently. At the end of the interview, as the adults looked on, she approached Justice Sotomayor to ask if she, a Latina, could one day be president of the United States. Justice Sotomayor hugged her and replied, “Yes, yes.” She then went on to give the child a true life lesson.
“First of all, a girl like you should always dream big,” Justice Sotomayor told Sophie.
“Second, never let anyone say that you can’t do it. And the minute they say that, you should do as I have done myself and say: ‘You are telling me I can’t do it? Well, I’ll show you I can.’
“Third, you have to study, study and study. That’s the only way you can achieve what you want in life. Education is the key to the future.
“And fourth, you have to work very hard. In life no one will give you anything for free. You must earn every single thing in this life. It is by studying and working hard that you will become president of the United States.”
Before saying goodbye, Justice Sotomayor hugged Sophie once again. “I hope to be alive when you become president,” the justice said, before expressing her wish to be the one to administer the oath of office to her.
I hope to be there for that occasion. But for that to happen, good intentions and hard work won’t be enough. I get why the idea of quotas isn’t very popular in the United States, a country that takes pride in presenting itself as a meritocracy. But the reality is that if we don’t set gender quotas the way Finland did, putting an end to prejudice and current inequalities will be hard. We need a sense of urgency and new rules that reflect our outrage.