Justice Sonia Sotomayor Keeps it Real (Again): Not Everyone Can Pull Themselves ‘Up By The Bootstraps’

You can always count on Justice Sonia Sotomayor to keep it all the way real when talking about matters of inequality.

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In a discussion with the Aspen Institute Latinos and Society Program that was published Monday, the Supreme Court Justice challenged the popularly held belief that every individual in the U.S. has access to the same opportunities and is thus operating on a level playing field.

“There’s a continuing tension in America between the image of the person who pulls themselves up by the bootstraps, and the person who believes that you need a lift to get up sometimes,” Sotomayor told the program’s executive director, Abigail Golden-Vazquez. “Those people who believe that everyone must pull themselves up ― they don’t believe that people are entitled to help.”

The South Bronx-born Puerto Rican continued: “For those of us who understand that sometimes no matter how tall the heel on your boot is, the barrier is so high that you need a small lift to help you get over it ― they will understand that the inequalities in society build that barrier so high. Unless you do something to knock it down or help that person up, they will never have a chance. I had those things. I had a unique mother who was able to understand the benefits of education and encouraged me to use education as my liftoff. But not everyone knows that.”

Sotomayor, who has in the past identified herself as the "product of affirmative action," also discussed how supporting children from marginalized backgrounds who don't have the same opportunities and resources as their peers can help them succeed.

“How many kids hear that they can’t go to college, that they have to support the family?” she asked. “That comes from a parent whose own life has constricted their understanding of opportunity. So for me, that’s a constant conversation. It’s not an issue about whether someone is willing to lift themselves up. There are so many barriers that we have to bring down before we can change the outcomes.”

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Watch the discussion, which focused on Latino civic engagement, above.