The late Justice William Brennan is said to have described the secret to success on the U.S. Supreme Court with one hand, five fingers outstretched, to show that, with five votes on a nine-member court, a justice could do anything.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor suggested a similar approach when she told a packed Emory University audience Tuesday how she handles harsh criticism of her opinions. Of colleagues who have occasionally blasted one of her positions, she said, “I could have strangled them, but I need their vote for the next case.”

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