Monday message 09.20.2021
Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor
In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, iLEAD Exploration would like to recognize Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. She was nominated to the Supreme Court by President Barack Obama. On May 26, 2009, Sonia Sotomayor became the first Latina Supreme Court Justice in U.S. history.
Who Is Sonia Sotomayor?
Sonia Sotomayor became a U.S. District Court Judge in 1992 and was elevated to the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals in 1998. In 2009, she was confirmed as the first Latina Supreme Court justice in U.S. history.
Federal judge Sotomayor was born as the elder of two children in the South Bronx area of New York City, on June 25, 1954. Parents Juan and Celina Baez Sotomayor, who were of Puerto Rican descent, moved to New York City to raise their children. Sotomayor’s family functioned on a very modest income – her mother was a nurse at a methadone clinic, and her father was a tool-and-die worker.
Sotomayor’s first leanings toward the justice system began after watching an episode of the television show Perry Mason. When a prosecutor on the program said he did not mind losing when a defendant turned out to be innocent, Sotomayor later said to The New York Times that she “made the quantum leap: If that was the prosecutor’s job, then the guy who made the decision to dismiss the case was the judge. That was what I was going to be.”
When her husband died in 1963, Celina worked hard to raise her children as a single parent. She placed what Sotomayor would later call an “almost fanatical emphasis” on a higher education, pushing the children to become fluent in English and making huge sacrifices to purchase a set of encyclopedias that would give them proper research materials for school.
Sotomayor graduated from Cardinal Spellman High School in the Bronx in 1972 and entered the Ivy League, attending Princeton University. The young Latina woman felt overwhelmed by her new school; after she received low marks on first mid-term paper, she sought help, taking more English and writing classes. She also became highly involved with the Puerto Rican groups on campus, including Acción Puertorriqueña and the Third World Center. The groups, she said, provided her “with an anchor I needed to ground myself in that new and different world.” She also worked with the university’s discipline committee, where she started developing her legal skills.
All of Sotomayor’s hard work paid off when she graduated summa cum laude from Princeton in 1976. She was also awarded the Pyne Prize, which is the highest academic award given to Princeton undergraduates. That same year, Sotomayor entered Yale Law School, where she was an editor for the Yale Law Journal. She received her J.D. in 1979, passed the bar in 1980 and immediately began work as an assistant district attorney in Manhattan, serving as a trial lawyer under District Attorney Robert Morgenthau. Sotomayor was responsible for prosecuting robbery, assault, murder, police brutality and child pornography cases.
Legal Practice and Judicial Appointments
In 1984, Sotomayor entered private practice, making partner at the commercial litigation firm Pavia & Harcourt, where she specialized in intellectual property litigation. She moved from associate to partner at the firm in 1988. While she climbed the ladder there, Sotomayor also served on the board of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, the New York City Campaign Finance Board and the State of New York Mortgage Agency.
Sotomayor’s pro bono work at these agencies caught the attention of Senators Ted Kennedy and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who were partially responsible for her appointment as U.S. District Court judge for the Southern District of New York City. President George H.W. Bush nominated her for the position in 1992, which was confirmed unanimously by the Senate on August 11, 1992. When she joined the court, she was its youngest judge. On her 43rd birthday, June 25, 1997, she was nominated for the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals by President Bill Clinton. She was confirmed by the Senate that October.
In addition to her work in the Court of Appeals, Sotomayor also began teaching law as an adjunct professor at New York University in 1998 and at Columbia Law School in 1999. She has also received honorary law degrees from Herbert H. Lehman College, Princeton University and Brooklyn Law School. And she served on the Board of Trustees at Princeton.
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