Sonia Agonistes

There has been, in most of the media treatments of Sonia Sotomayor and the life she’s lead up to her SCOTUS nomination, an elephant in the room. No, not that elephant—another one. Something that’s been a lingering void in the judge’s otherwise quite full public profile—something that doesn’t really matter, in any practical sense, but that has been a curiosity nonetheless—something that journalists have generally acknowledged, tacitly, and then proceeded to ignore: Sotomayor’s romantic history.

In a front-page article in today’s New York Times, the reporting team of Michael Powell, Serge Kovaleski, and Russ Buettner explore that history—or, more precisely, they give it more attention than most previous accounts have given. Her early marriage and subsequent divorce, a broken engagement. All couched in the context of the judge’s profound connection to New York: Sotomayor is not just from the city, the reporters suggest, but of it. She is intense. She is driven. She is a workaholic.

The article is an attempt to prove a negative, of sorts: the void that ambition and, more to the point, success have left in the judge’s life. Though group-reported, it is written by Michael Powell, who is one of the more lyrical writers among the Times’s political reporters—and it does what good newspaper narratives do at their best: it evokes and elevates through the simplicity of facts themselves. What results is a story that’s much more than a compulsory entry into the cliche-studded genre of It’s Hard to Have It All; there’s pathos in it, and empathy. It finds its voice in that lonely space between what its subject has achieved and what she has given up to achieve it.

Well worth a read.

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Megan Garber is an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. She was formerly a CJR staff writer.