First Hispanic and the third female Supreme Court Justice
"Sonia Sotomayor is an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, serving since August 2009. She has the distinction of being its first justice of Hispanic descent and the first Latina.
Sotomayor was born in The Bronx, New York City, to Puerto Rican-born parents. Her father died when she was nine, and she was subsequently raised by her mother. Sotomayor graduated summa cum laude from Princeton University in 1976 and received her J.D. from Yale Law School in 1979, where she was an editor at the Yale Law Journal. She worked as an assistant district attorney in New York for four-and-a-half years before entering private practice in 1984. She played an active role on the boards of directors for the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, the State of New York Mortgage Agency, and the New York City Campaign Finance Board.
Sotomayor was nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York by President George H. W. Bush in 1991; confirmation followed in 1992. In 1997, she was nominated by President Bill Clinton to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Her nomination was slowed by the Republican majority in the United States Senate, but she was eventually confirmed in 1998. On the Second Circuit, Sotomayor heard appeals in more than 3,000 cases and wrote about 380 opinions. Sotomayor has taught at the New York University School of Law and Columbia Law School.
In May 2009, President Barack Obama nominated Sotomayor to the Supreme Court following the retirement of Justice David Souter. Her nomination was confirmed by the Senate in August 2009 by a vote of 68–31. While on the court, Sotomayor has supported the informal liberal bloc of justices when they divide along the commonly perceived ideological lines. During her tenure on the Supreme Court, Sotomayor has been identified with concern for the rights of defendants, calls for reform of the criminal justice system, and making impassioned dissents on issues of race, gender and ethnic identity, including Schuette v. BAMN and Utah v. Strieff.
[During her time at Princeton], Sotomayor focused on faculty hiring and curriculum, since Princeton did not have a single full-time Latino professor nor any class on Latin American studies. A meeting with university president William G. Bowen in her sophomore year saw no results, leading to Sotomayor's saying in a New York Times story at the time that "Princeton is following a policy of benign neutrality and is not making substantive efforts to change." So, Acción Puertorriqueña filed a formal letter of complaint in April 1974 with the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, saying the school discriminated in its hiring and admission practices. Sotomayor wrote opinion pieces for the Daily Princetonian with the same theme. The university began to hire Latino faculty, and Sotomayor established an ongoing dialogue with Bowen. Sotomayor also successfully persuaded historian Peter Winn to create a seminar on Puerto Rican history and politics. Sotomayor joined the governance board of Princeton's Third World Center and served on the university's student–faculty Discipline Committee, which issued rulings on student infractions. She also ran an after-school program for local children and volunteered as an interpreter for Latino patients at Trenton Psychiatric Hospital.
Sotomayor entered Yale Law School in the fall of 1976, once more on a scholarship… She became an editor of the Yale Law Journal and was also managing editor of the student-run Yale Studies in World Public Order publication (later known as the Yale Journal of International Law). Sotomayor published a law review note on the effect of possible Puerto Rican statehood on the island's mineral and ocean rights. She was a semi-finalist in the Barristers Union mock trial competition. She was co-chair of a group for Latin, Asian, and Native American students, and her advocacy to hire more Hispanic faculty was renewed.
Following her second year, she gained a job as a summer associate with the prominent New York law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison… In 1979, Sotomayor was awarded a J.D. from Yale Law School. She was admitted to the New York Bar the following year.
On the recommendation of Cabranes, Sotomayor was hired out of law school as an assistant district attorney under New York County District Attorney Robert Morgenthau starting in 1979… Working in the trial division, she handled heavy caseloads as she prosecuted everything from shoplifting and prostitution to robberies, assaults, and murders. She also worked on cases involving police brutality. She was not afraid to venture into tough neighborhoods or endure squalid conditions in order to interview witnesses. In the courtroom, she was effective at cross examination and at simplifying a case in ways to which a jury could relate. In 1983 in her highest profile case she helped convict the "Tarzan Murderer" (who acrobatically entered apartments, robbed them, and shot residents for no reason). She felt lower-level crimes were largely products of socioeconomic environment and poverty, but she had a different attitude about serious felonies: "No matter how liberal I am, I'm still outraged by crimes of violence. Regardless of whether I can sympathize with the causes that lead these individuals to do these crimes, the effects are outrageous." Hispanic-on-Hispanic crime was of particular concern to her: "The saddest crimes for me were the ones that my own people committed against each other." In general, she showed a passion for bringing law and order to the streets of New York, displaying special zeal in pursuing child pornography cases, unusual for the time. She worked 15-hour days and gained a reputation for being driven and for her preparedness and fairness. One of her job evaluations labelled her a "potential superstar". Morgenthau later described her as "smart, hard-working, [and having] a lot of common sense," and as a "fearless and effective prosecutor." She stayed a typical length of time in the post and had a common reaction to the job: "After a while, you forget there are decent, law-abiding people in life."
In 1984, she entered private practice, joining the commercial litigation practice group of Pavia & Harcourt in Manhattan as an associate… In 1988 she became a partner at the firm; she was paid well but not extravagantly. She left in 1992 when she became a judge.
On June 25, 1997, Sotomayor was nominated by President Bill Clinton to a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which was vacated by J. Daniel Mahoney… Sotomayor was confirmed on October 2, 1998, by a 67–29 vote. She received her commission on October 7. The confirmation experience left Sotomayor somewhat angry; she said shortly afterwards that during the hearings, Republicans had assumed her political beliefs based on her being a Latina: "That series of questions, I think, were symbolic of a set of expectations that some people had [that] I must be liberal. It is stereotyping, and stereotyping is perhaps the most insidious of all problems in our society today."
Since President Barack Obama's election there was speculation that Sotomayor could be a leading candidate for a Supreme Court seat. New York Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand wrote a joint letter to Obama urging him to appoint Sotomayor, or alternatively Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, to the Supreme Court if a vacancy should arise during his term… On May 25, Obama informed Sotomayor of his choice; she later said, "I had my [hand] over my chest, trying to calm my beating heart, literally." On May 26, 2009, Obama nominated her. She became only the second jurist to be nominated to three different judicial positions by three different presidents. The selection appeared to closely match Obama's presidential campaign promise that he would nominate judges who had "the heart, the empathy, to recognize what it's like to be a teenage mom. The empathy to understand what it's like to be poor, or African-American, or gay, or disabled, or old."
Sotomayor has received honorary law degrees from Lehman College (1999), Princeton University (2001), Brooklyn Law School (2001), Pace University School of Law (2003), Hofstra University (2006), Northeastern University School of Law (2007), Howard University (2010), St. Lawrence University (2010), New York University (2012),Yale University (2013), and the University of Puerto Rico (2014).
She was elected a member of the American Philosophical Society in 2002. She was given the Outstanding Latino Professional Award in 2006 by the Latino/a Law Students Association. In 2008, Esquire magazine included Sotomayor on its list of "The 75 Most Influential People of the 21st Century". In 2013, Sotomayor won the Woodrow Wilson Award at her alma mater Princeton University…
In 2013, a painting featuring her, Sandra Day O'Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Elena Kagan was unveiled at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. According to the Smithsonian at the time, the painting was on loan to the museum for three years.
In May 2015 she received the Katharine Hepburn medal from Bryn Mawr College. The Katharine Hepburn Medal recognizes women who change their worlds: those whose lives, work, and contributions embody the intelligence, drive, and independence of the four-time Oscar winner and her namesake mother, an early feminist activist." (1)