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NYT Reporter Kantor Lays Into Justice Sotomayor: 'Homespun Wisdom...Interrupted by Impromptu Applause'

Obama biographer Jodi Kantor caught up with Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor's book tour in Chicago for Monday's edition in "Sotomayor, a Star on the Book-Tour Circuit, Sees a New Niche for a Justice." Kantor promoted the liberal justice as a kind of folk hero "dispensing homespun wisdom."

At her Wednesday night book talk here, Justice Sonia Sotomayor glided through her audience of 700, dispensing homespun wisdom through a cordless microphone, interrupted by impromptu applause.

When the moderator read a question from Tabbie Major, age 7, about which books Justice Sotomayor loved as a child, she found the girl, locked her in an embrace, held on while reminiscing about Nancy Drew mysteries and then called out for a photographer to capture the moment. No need: a good portion of the crowd was already snapping pictures.

Welcome to another night in the life of Sonia Sotomayor, Supreme Court justice, current queen of the best-seller list and suddenly the nation’s most high-profile Hispanic figure. She may be a relative newcomer to national life, plucked from circuit-court obscurity less than four years ago. But the release of her new memoir, “My Beloved World,” suggests that she has broader ambitions than her colleagues, to play a larger and more personal role on the public stage.

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To say that Justice Sotomayor is less cloistered than most of her predecessors and colleagues may be an understatement: among many other appearances to promote her book, she salsa-danced with the Univision anchor Jorge Ramos in her chambers.

Other justices draw large crowds (particularly Antonin Scalia, known for his cheerfully pugnacious pronouncements) and have written No. 1 best sellers (as Clarence Thomas did in 2007). But Justice Sotomayor’s readings have the air of celebratory happenings, attended by entire families, people who left work early to line up for tickets and acolytes who quote her recent interviews from memory.

On a Times political podcast in May 2009, before the congressional hearings into Sotomayor's nomination, Kantor also raved about the judge's down-home ability to connect: "You know, we've been talking to colleagues friends, etc., all week. What they say is that she has kind of a common touch, you know, she's the kind of person who goes out of her way to talk to the janitors, you know, in the cafeteria, she'll not only speak to the cafeteria workers but she'll speak to them in Spanish, if they're Spanish speakers."