Chapter 23–Epilogue

In this memoir, Sonia Sotomayor recounts her childhood in the South Bronx, her education and early work as a lawyer, and her eventual appointment to the Supreme Court of the United States.
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Explore the Words

definitions & notes only words
  1. tangible
    capable of being treated as fact
    Joining the DA’s Office had represented a chance to be a practicing lawyer right away and to play a tangible part in protecting the public.
  2. pro forma
    as a customary requirement only
    As a homicide novice, I couldn’t have led the prosecution, but Hugh Mo, the senior assistant DA in charge, ensured that my second-seat role was far from pro forma.
  3. modus operandi
    an unvarying or habitual method or procedure
    The press had so dubbed the perpetrator because his modus operandi included swinging through a victim’s apartment window from a rope secured to the roof.
  4. propensity
    a disposition to behave in a certain way
    We argued that our purpose was to show not criminal propensity but rather proof of identity: given the rare level of physical strength and agility required for the acrobatics common to all the incidents, we could reasonably claim that this element, not unlike a signature modus operandi, identified Maddicks as the perpetrator.
  5. garish
    tastelessly showy
    His partner Clemente D’Alessio cut a much less sympathetic figure, stocky with slicked-back hair and a pockmarked face, a garish gold crucifix hanging on his chest.
  6. misgiving
    doubt about someone's honesty
    I tried to put myself in the jurors’ shoes and anticipate any possible misgiving or misunderstanding.
  7. balk
    refuse to comply
    Would they balk at the circumstantial nature of the evidence against D’Alessio?
  8. circumstantial
    suggesting that something is true without proving it
    Would they balk at the circumstantial nature of the evidence against D’Alessio?
  9. decorum
    propriety in manners and conduct
    Arriving for my first interview, I was struck by the aura of the place—a midtown oasis of restrained elegance. George Pavia, the founder’s son and now managing partner, was said to be fond of continuity, and the decorum of the offices befitted a roster of clients whose names were synonymous with European luxury and high style…
  10. avuncular
    resembling an uncle in kindness or indulgence
    Just as I had done with John Fried at the District Attorney’s Office, I turned to Dave instinctively as a guide. His presence was comforting, avuncular, and expansive.
  11. versed
    thoroughly acquainted through study or experience
    It was through his instruction that I became versed in a complex and little-understood area of the law.
  12. arbitration
    the hearing and determination of a dispute by a referee
    He had worked hard to institute more evenhanded arbitration practices that tempered the influence of the big grain houses.
  13. prolific
    intellectually productive
    As a professor, she noted, she had been writing prolifically her whole career.
  14. impervious
    not admitting of passage or capable of being affected
    Hallway conversations could be carried on right outside my door, because I was the only person impervious to distraction, completely unaware.
  15. affidavit
    written declaration made under oath
    I showed Fran how to work up an affidavit. She wrote most of the briefs.
  16. opulence
    wealth as evidenced by sumptuous living
    It was my first time at a restaurant of such stellar opulence, and I was thrilled by the experience, though sad to see that Fran could barely eat.
  17. proviso
    a stipulated condition
    The good news came with a curious proviso, words that have stuck in my mind. “It’s clear that you won’t stay in private practice forever," George said. “We know you’re destined for the bench someday. Dave is even convinced you’ll go all the way to the Supreme Court. But with this offer, we ask only that you remain with us as long as you continue in private practice.”
  18. supine
    lying face upward
    Exhausted, I needed to lie down for a few minutes. I didn’t feel right, light-headed, but once supine I couldn’t get my body to move.
  19. regimen
    a systematic plan for therapy
    All through college, law school, and my years at the DA’s Office, I would stick with essentially the same regimen I’d had as a child.
  20. precipitous
    extremely steep
    Somehow, after I checked into my hotel room, my blood sugar dropped precipitously, and I passed out.
  21. chagrin
    strong feelings of embarrassment
    “I am the doctor; you are the patient,” he insisted, as Alessandro translated with chagrin.
  22. paradigm
    a standard or typical example
    But I’ve come to see that it does begin and end with my mother, who became my most constant emotional paradigm, informing my character for good and for ill, as well as the character of my relations with her.
  23. aloofness
    a disposition to be distant and unsympathetic in manner
    This was the cold image I’d lived with and formed myself in response to, unhappily adopting the aloofness but none of the glamour.
  24. gangly
    tall, thin, and awkward
    Even as the kids grew into gangly teenagers, the hugs never stopped.
  25. sluice
    conduit that carries a rapid flow of water
    The stroke on the arm that says I understand, the welcome hug, the good-bye kiss, the embrace that lingers that much longer in a time of sorrow. I’ve discovered the palpable difference between such acts as mere gestures and as sluices of true feeling between two people.
  26. eminent
    standing above others in quality or position
    “Humor me, Sonia. They’re looking for qualified Hispanics. You’re not only a qualified Hispanic but eminently qualified, period.”
  27. gregarious
    temperamentally seeking and enjoying the company of others
    He turned out to be so forthright and gregarious that I warmed to him at once.
  28. propitious
    presenting favorable circumstances
    After a couple of blocks I saw a monumental flight of stairs, familiar white columns: the Supreme Court Building glowing serenely, like a temple on a hill. There could not have been a more propitious omen.
  29. grassroots
    of or involving the common people rather than those in power
    The Hispanic National Bar Association lobbied the White House steadily and rallied grassroots support from other Latino organizations.
  30. ardent
    characterized by strong enthusiasm
    If confirmed, I would be the first Hispanic federal judge in the state’s history, a milestone the community ardently wished to achieve (José Cabranes had very nearly claimed the honor in 1979 but was simultaneously nominated for a judgeship in Connecticut and chose to serve there instead, though much later he would take a New York seat on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals).
  31. veritable
    being truly so called; real or genuine
    Even before Senator Moynihan had settled on my name for the nomination, a veritable This Is Your Life cast of backers came forward: my fellow board members at PRLDEF, Bob Morgenthau and others at the DA’s Office, Father O’Hare and colleagues on the Campaign Finance Board, lawyers I’d known through mutual clients.
  32. perfunctory
    as a formality only
    The public induction ceremony followed in October. Though brief—perhaps all of five minutes—it was far from perfunctory.
  33. don
    put on clothes
    Every moment of it moved me deeply: donning the black robe, swearing solemnly to administer justice without respect to persons, equally to the poor and the rich, and to perform my duties under the Constitution faithfully and impartially.
  34. estimable
    deserving of respect or high regard
    I took, for that occasion only, the traditional newcomer’s seat between the chief judge, Charles Brieant, and Judge Constance Baker Motley, the next most senior of the estimable colleagues I was joining.
  35. brazen
    unrestrained by convention or propriety
    I still couldn’t believe this had worked out as dreamed, and I felt myself almost an impostor meeting my fate so brazenly.
  36. reproach
    disgrace or shame
    But when I sat down, I noticed that my knees were still knocking together. I could hear the sound and wondered in complete mortification whether the microphone set in front of me on the table was picking it up. I was listening to the lawyers, too, of course, as the telltale tapping under the table continued, a disembodied nuisance and reproach.
  37. culmination
    a concluding action
    When I placed my hand on the Bible, taking the oath of office to become a district court judge, the ceremony marked the culmination of one journey of growth and understanding but also the beginning of another.
  38. foible
    a minor weakness or peculiarity in someone's character
    If you held to principle so passionately, so inflexibly, indifferent to the particulars of circumstance—the full range of what human beings, with all their flaws and foibles, might endure or create—if you enthroned principle above even reason, weren’t you then abdicating the responsibilities of a thinking person?
  39. brook
    put up with something or somebody unpleasant
    There are, likewise, certainly values that brook no compromise, and I would count among them integrity, fairness, and the avoidance of cruelty.
  40. idiosyncrasy
    a behavioral attribute peculiar to an individual
    But I have never accepted the argument that principle is compromised by judging each situation on its own merits, with due appreciation of the idiosyncrasy of human motivation and fallibility.
Created on February 13, 2020 (updated February 18, 2020)

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