I do not understand the conversation about Sonia Sotomayor’s notional affirmative action advantages at all, not at all. The affirmative action that gives you a kick upwards in Eastern Establishment territory is the thumb on the scale for white people from the right schools and neighborhoods and families, especially legacy applicants: it’s the most affirmative and active of all. W got into Yale, for Pete’s sake!
I remember arriving at Harvard (a decade before SS went to college) from the Bronx HS of Science, whence Harvard had admitted eleven students a year since forever, out of a graduating class of about 800- of whom, we learned, none had ever graduated less than magna. There I found many things of interest to a New York kid, for example (1) Protestants! (2) …who seemed to be in charge of everything! My social justice gland went into overdrive as I started to meet the thirty-odd Pomfret students (a third of their graduates) in my class through my roommate, and compare them just on general smarts to the BHSS students who hadn’t made the cut with me.
It’s the credentials of WASPs we should be discounting, not Sotomayor’s, especially given Princeton’s reputation at the time as the “northernmost Southern school” and a distinct laggard in accommodating minorities of any kind (it certainly seemed that way to Michelle Obama a decade later). Speaking of minorities, I wonder if Princeton wasn’t also infected with the condescending anti-Catholic fungus (which may have been more pronounced in Boston given its political history) that pervaded Harvard at least through the eighties. I remember standing with a glass of sherry at some event, on the fringes of a conversation between two distinguished faculty members seriously considering whether Catholics were really capable of independent thinking, and realizing that they both knew my name (but, having just been introduced, could not know that the obvious inference was incorrect).
If we’re going to recalibrate Sotomayor’s academic credentials at all, I think we have to at least get the sign right, and recognize that she would have had a much easier ride at Princeton were she named Woods or Grove, or even Bigthicket.