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Sonia Sotomayor


Sonia Sotomayor is a lawyer, educator, and Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. As the first Latin American woman and one of the youngest attorneys to serve as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, she is a record-breaker on many personal and professional grounds.

Portrait of Sonia Sotomayor.
Sotomayor, Sonia. 30" x 20". 2012. Collection of Randi McGuinn. McGuinn Carpenter Montoya and Love PA. Albuquerque, NM.

Early Life and University Activism

Sotomayor grew up in the Bronx projects with her brother and Puerto Rican parents. She proudly self-identifies as Nuyorican, a distinctive New York-Puerto Rican identity. Celina Báez, Sotomayor’s mother, was the greatest influence on her life and career. She unrelentingly pushed Sotomayor’s education, seeing it as the most valuable pursuit for a good and fruitful life. Her mother’s efforts combined with her own dream of becoming an attorney shaped the might and mind with which she surmounted challenges in both her childhood and higher education.

At Princeton University, Sotomayor was shocked to discover that, despite feelings of equality and efficacy, she was perceived as deficient. Coming to terms with racism and social limitations, she used them as motivation for transformation – her own and for other Latinx in America – that would be realized through a precedent-setting career and amendments to the legal system. While working tirelessly to hone her English fluency, she also used her ceaseless conviction to address social and institutional discrimination in education and law.

Her work effectively brought Latin American professors into the university and added Latin American studies to the curriculum. 

Her early successes in school and involvement in student politics were given new purpose in university. Informed by the surge of activism and Critical Race Theory, she took the Ivy League head on, tackling important issues of student and faculty diversity. Her work in student associations for Puerto Rican students and in the admissions office gave birth to her influence on race politics in America. She combatted discriminatory hiring and admissions practices. Her work effectively brought Latin American professors into the university and added Latin American studies to the curriculum. After graduating from Princeton with honors in 1976, she earned a Doctor of Law from Yale in 1979.

Legal Career

Sotomayor sat as an Assistant District Attorney in New York, undertaking cases of shoplifting, prostitution, robbery, police brutality, assault, and murder. Faced with many criminal cases involving the Latinx population, her position became morally and emotionally conflicted. Her prosecutor training quickly became a learning process to navigate the emotional terrain and her personal attachments to create a balanced, critical approach to "bringing law and order to the streets of New York."

In 1984, Sotomayor opened a private practice out of her home and sat on the board of directors for the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund as a policy maker, working on “New York City hiring practices, police brutality, the death penalty, and voting rights.” She also worked for the private group Pavia & Harcourt, where she became a partner in 1988. For four years, Sotomayor was on the New York City Campaign Finance Board, and the Maternity Centre Association. She later served in public service for the State of New York Mortgage Agency, an organization that supported affordable housing, a cause she supported vociferously.

Sotomayor’s practice involved legal consultation, international law, arbitration, intellectual property litigation, and work with international corporations in the United States. She also instructed at New York University School of Law as well as Columbia Law School. 

Work in the Government

Sotomayor's experiences, in consort with a certain fearlessness, hard work, intelligence, and understanding of the plight of America’s marginalized populations, set her apart. Such distinction drew the attention of important government figures and appointments.

She is the second jurist in U.S. History to receive nominations for three different judicial positions by three presidents.

In 1991, Senator Moynihan recommended Sotomayor to the New York district court. In 1992 she was nominated by George H. W. Bush and confirmed unanimously in 1992 as the first “[Latina] federal judge in New York State.” In 1997, President Bill Clinton nominated her to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, to which she was confirmed in 1998. Her current seat as Associate Supreme Court Justice was an honorable nomination by President Barack Obama in 2008. She is the second jurist in U.S. History to receive nominations for three different judicial positions by three presidents.

Sotomayor’s prolific career has involved significant rulings in cases of abortion, amendment rights, civil rights, property rights, and multiple forms of discrimination. As an Associate Justice, Sotomayor has brought focus to defendant rights, race, gender, ethnicity, and criminal justice system reform. She also remains dedicated to inclusivity and diversity in administration.

Guiding Principles and Goals

From the outset of her involvement in justice, Sotomayor addressed socio-economic issues from two important angles, both creating means to uplift and support those victimized by socio-economic disparities and advocating for policies to legislate equal opportunity, integration, and access.

Some may perceive Sotomayor’s upbringing and background as obstacles to success. But they became the fuel and fire to her will to make changes to U.S. society, justice, and consciousness, and supporting the lives of Latin Americans in the United States.

Bibliography

  • David, Kumar. 2009. US Senate’s Cabinet and Judiciary confirmation procedures: Good system, but subject to partisan misuse. Accessed 2016. http://www.island.lk/2009/06/21/features4.html.
  • Hernandez, Raymond & Chen, David W. 2009. "Nominee's Links With Advocates Fuel Her Critics." The New York Times.
  • Infinite, SHE Is. 2016. SHE Is Infinite. March 03. Accessed 2015. http://www.sheisinfinite.org/.
  • Jackson, David. 2007. Sotomayor hearing: Republicans get their last chance. http://content.usatoday.com/communities/theoval/post/2009/07/68494597/1#.V99mWPArK00.
  • King, Wayne. 1991. "Hispanic Nominee for U.S. Bench." The New York Times.
  • Ruíz, Vicki, and Virginia Sánchez, eds. Korrol. 2006. "Latinas in the United States: A Historical Encyclopedia. ." 13. Indiana University Press.

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