Saturday, April 27, 2019

Breaking in: The Rise of Sonia Sotomayor and the Politics of Justice by Joan Biskupic

Breaking in: The Rise of Sonia Sotomayor and the Politics of Justice
by Joan Biskupic,  narrated by Carrington MacDuffie
Tantor Audio, 2014
8 hours and 19 minutes

Source: downloaded from the library via hoopla

Motivation for listening:
I'm fascinated by the Supreme Court and was looking for Biskupic's new book, The Chief:
The Life and Turbulent Times of Chief Justice John Roberts.  That title was not available, so I checked this out instead.

Publisher's summary:
In Breaking In, veteran journalist Joan Biskupic tells the story of how two forces providentially merged-the large ambitions of a talented Puerto Rican girl raised in the projects in the Bronx and the increasing political presence of Hispanics, from California to Texas, from Florida to the Northeast-resulting in a historical appointment. And this is not just a tale about breaking barriers as a Puerto Rican. It's about breaking barriers as a justice.

As a Supreme Court justice, Sonia Sotomayor has shared her personal story to an unprecedented degree. And that story-of a Latina who emerged from tough times in the projects not only to prevail but also to rise to the top-has even become fabric for some of her most passionate comments on matters before the Court. But there is yet more to know about the rise of Sotomayor. Breaking In offers the larger, untold story of the woman who has been called "the people's justice."

My thoughts:

I'm on a Supreme Court reading kick again this year. It started with Ruth Bader Ginsburg: A Life  by Jane Sherron De Hart and, shortly after that, My Own Words  by Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I'd hoped to continue with the new John Roberts biography, but when that wasn't available, Biskupic's book about Sonia Sotomayor was.

I've been interested in learning more about Sotomayor since her memoir, My Beloved World, was a favorite a few years ago. That narrative ends in 1991 when she was nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York by President George H. W. Bush. It does not cover any of her time on the bench.

Joan Biskupic has authored several biographies on Supreme Court justices, but Breaking In  seems to be a slight departure in that it is as much about the political climate surrounding Sotomayor's nomination process as Sotomayor herself.

It was dispiriting to read about how political the nomination process has become... and this book was published in 2014. Biskupic claims the politicization began during the Reagan years and it's plain to see how it has further intensified in the past five years - from the lack of action on Merrick Garland in 2016, to the 2018 Kavanaugh fiasco.

This book covers Sotomayor's early life, but obviously not in the same detail as her own memoir. I was particularly interested in reading about her first years on the Supreme Court, how life experiences may shape her interpretation of the law, and the general impact of her decisions.

Several of the cases discussed here were also mentioned in the RBG biography and I appreciated viewing them from a slightly different perspective.

A note on the  audio production: It's always a plus when I come across a Carrington MacDuffie narration. Her voice exudes measured calm, confidence, and intelligence... the perfect choice for a book like this. I'm glad I chose to go the audio route.

Bottom line:
If you are interested in Sonia Sotomayor's early life, I highly recommend My Beloved World. (The audio version read by Rita Moreno is excellent.)  Breaking In  also covers those years, but it primarily focuses on her judicial career and the behind-the-scenes maneuverings of the judicial nomination process. Combined, these two titles offer a complete study of the country's first Hispanic and Latina Justice.

My rating:


  1. I'm embarrassed to say I know next to nothing about our Supreme Court justices.

    1. Kathy - Not sure why I find the whole thing so fascinating...

  2. I too have been interested in Supreme Court justices lately, because we all know why. I will be reading Sisters In Law next month for a reading group: about Sandra Day O'Connor and RBG. I also have On the Basis of Sex in my Netflix queue, coming soon. I look forward to your review.

    1. Judy - I read (actually mostly listened to) Sisters In Law a couple years ago. The dual biography format was a nice change of pace. Interesting that these women, polar opposites in many respects, both wound up on the same bench... albeit through very different paths.

  3. Sounds interesting, I have no clue who sits on our High Court (equivalent to your Supreme Court), maybe it’s something I should look into.

    Thanks for sharing.

    1. Shelleyrae - I've always been interested in the Supreme Court, but have been paying a lot closer attention over the last decade or so. Maybe I should have gone to law school! ;-)

  4. I really enjoyed My Beloved World and My Own Words and I'd also love to learn more about more about them. I have been a little nervous though that most bios will pale compared to the books that had more input from their subjects! What cool women though :)

    1. Katie - That's always a concern. While the RBG biography I read earlier this year as not the "authorized" bio, the author had interviewed Ginsburg several times over the years. I'm not sure Biskupic had that opportunity. Either way, it's been fascinating to read about the justices.


Thanks so much for taking the time to comment! Be sure to check back, I always respond. Due to a recent increase in spam, all comments are moderated.


Related Posts with Thumbnails