In what appears to be her first press interview since becoming a Supreme Court justice, Sonia Sotomayor said she waited for 12 hours to get the Memorial Day phone call from President Obama confirming his plan to appoint her to the Supreme Court. When her cellphone finally rang at her New York City home and the White House operator said the President was on the line, "I had my left hand over my chest to calm my beating heart, literally," she said. After Obama told her he had decided to appoint her to the high court, Sotomayor said, "I caught my breath and started to cry and said, 'Thank you Mr. President.' That was what the moment was like."
Her remarkably personal comments came in an interview she gave Sept. 16 to C-SPAN as part of its "Supreme Court Week" documentary series, which begins airing on the cable channel Oct. 4. All 11 sitting and retired justices of the Court agreed to be interviewed -- a notable first-ever accomplishment, given the Court's traditional camera-shy posture toward the news media. Excerpts from the Sotomayor interview were released for use by other media tonight.
Sotomayor told the interviewer, C-SPAN president Susan Swain, that President Obama "asked me to make 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."
The justice said she had been told the president would make up his mind over the weekend, so on Monday, "I had been sitting in my office from 8:00 that morning waiting for a phone call." No calls came from the White House, but her family members checked in often, anxiously asking whether they should start making the trip to Washington. She told them to go ahead, even though at that point she still did not know if she would get the nod.
Finally at 7 p.m. she called a White House contact and was told the president "had gotten distracted with some other important business," but in the meantime she should go home and pack for a trip to Washington. The contact told her the White House "would prefer that I didn't take a plane," she added.
So after the fateful phone call came after 8 p.m., she called a friend to ask him to make the drive. She worked on her speech on the way from New York to D.C., normally a four-hour drive. However, she said, "a torrential rain started on the drive, and it knocked out our GPS." She continued, "We got lost and all of a sudden I'm in Virginia." She had her friend stop the car, and called friends and finally a former clerk who was familiar with D.C. who "talked us back on to the road and to the hotel. So it was a very busy 5 1/2, close to 6 hours between the rain and getting lost, it was a very eventful night."
Sotomayor said she arrived in D.C. at 2:30 a.m. and practiced her speech for an hour, trying to commit it to memory. She slept for three hours, got up and recited the speech without reading it. "When I was able to do that, I got it. And then I was able to shower and get dressed comfortably." A few hours later, the announcement was made.