Sotomayor: Affirmative action changed my life

Preview: Justice Sotomayor
Justice Sonia Sotomayor talks about her life and career leading up to her appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court, including the role affirmative action played. Watch Scott Pelley's report on Sunday, Jan. 13 at 8:00 p.m. ET/PT.

(CBS News) Sonia Sotomayor was appointed four years ago by President Barack Obama, but she gave her first broadcast interview to "60 Minutes."

She grew up in a public housing project in the Bronx, the child of Puerto Rican immigrants.

One of the biggest cases before the court right now concerns racial preferences in college admissions, known as affirmative action.

We were curious about how she sees that, because it was a factor in how Sotomayor got into Princeton in 1972.

SCOTT PELLEY: Do you think anyone ever resented the notion that you might have had a door opened for you by affirmative action?

SONIA SOTOMAYOR: You can't be a minority in this society without having someone express disapproval about affirmative action. From the first day I received in high school a card from Princeton telling me that it was possible that I was gonna get in, I was stopped by the school nurse and asked why I was sent a possible and the number one and the number two in the class were not. Now, I didn't know about affirmative action. But from the tone of her question I understood that she thought there was something wrong with them looking at me and not looking at those other two students.

Sotomayor on role affirmative action played in her life

Now, essentially the same question the nurse asked is before Sotomayor on the court. A white student has filed suit saying affirmative action kept her out of the University of Texas.

PELLEY: Is there a role for it today?

SOTOMAYOR: The affirmative action of today is very different than it was when I was going to school. And each school does it in a different way. I can't pass judgment on whether there's a role for it or not without it being seen as I'm making a comment on -- an existing case. But I do know that, for me, it was a door-opener that changed the course of my life.

To watch more of Scott Pelley's interview with Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, tune into "60 Minutes" Sunday, Jan. 13 at 8:00 p.m. ET/PT.

  • Scott Pelley
    Scott Pelley

    Correspondent, "60 Minutes"