Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor last year accepted an invitation the Belizean Grove, an elite but little-known women’s-only group.
Founded nearly 10 years ago as the female answer to the Bohemian Grove – a secretive all-male club whose members have included former U.S. presidents and top business leaders – the Belizean Grove has about 125 members, including Army generals, Wall Street executives and former ambassadors.
Sotomayor’s membership in the New York-based group became public Thursday afternoon in a questionnaire submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Since then, the group has been deluged with press calls, said its founder, Susan Stautberg, who explained that “we like to be under the radar screen.”
The group – which on its website describes itself as “a constellation of influential women who are key decision makers in the profit, non-profit and social sectors; who build long term mutually beneficial relationships in order to both take charge of their own destinies and help others to do the same” – hosts periodic meetings around New York, as well as an annual off-the-record three-day retreat in Central or South America at which its members attend cocktail parties with U.S. diplomats and host-country officials and participate in panel discussions on public-policy and business affairs.
At least year’s retreat in Lima, Peru, for instance, Sotomayor and the other members attended a reception at the American Embassy with U.S. Ambassador to Peru P. Michael McKinley and several female members of the Peruvian cabinet, Stautberg said.
Sotomayor, a federal appellate judge, gave a presentation on the challenges the judiciary faces in maintaining its independence from the legislative and executive branches.
“It was really about how you need to have that balance of power, and that the judiciary needed to have the ability to really be itself and not be influenced politically,” said Grove member Cathy Allen, the chief executive officer of a financial services firm in Santa Fe. Allen said she didn’t take notes on the speech, and added, “everything we do is off the record.”
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In a quote on the group’s website, Sotomayor called the Grove “an extraordinary grouping of talented, compassionate and passionate women. I am deeply honored to have been included. The joy of participating in your fun in Peru was wonderful.”
Mary Pearl, a dean and vice-president at New York’s Stony Brook University, called the talk “inspiring” and said she came away from it impressed by Sotomayor’s “profound respect for the Constitution and our legal framework in this country.”
The two became friends through the group, which, she said, is kind of the point of it.