Sonia Sotomayor

by Daniel Chavez

I do believe that every person has an equal opportunity to be a good and wise judge, regardless of their background or life experiences.” – Sonia Sotomayor
Sotomayor gets sworn in to the US Supreme Court
Sotomayor gets sworn in to the US Supreme Court

Sonia Sotomayor is known for being the first Hispanic justice nominee on the United States Supreme Court. She is recognized as a somewhat controversial and outspoken candidate whose words are sometimes misinterpreted yet she is distinguished for her many years of judicial service. In 2009, she became the Court’s 111th Justice, the first Hispanic Justice and third woman to serve in the US Supreme Court.

Through her hard work and dedication, Sotomayor has become a role model to follow for all those Hispanics that are trying to get an education and a great career. For Sotomayor, it did not come easy, but she made success a necessity not an option. She is living proof of the American Dream.

Sonia Sotomayor was born on June 25th 1954, in the Bronx, New York in a public housing project. Her parents, Juan and Celina Sotomayor were Puerto Ricans that came to New York during World War II. Her father was a tool and die maker with a third grade education and did not speak English. Her mother served in the Women’s Auxiliary Corps during the war then became a nurse. She raised Sonia and her younger brother Juan, who is now a physician in Syracuse, New York.

Sonia had a rough childhood, facing various obstacles. She was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes (Type I) when she was eight years old. Then her father died when she was nine years of age and her mother was left alone to raise her and her brother Juan. She spoke mostly Spanish up until the death of her father and turned to reading as a consolation. She fell in love with Nancy Drew, a detective in the popular children’s mystery series, which inspired a love of reading and learning. It was from these books that ultimately sparked her interest in the law even though she was told that her diabetes would not allow her to follow that line of work.

Sonia Sotomayor at age 8
Sonia Sotomayor at age 8

Sotomayor mentioned that another fictional character was who inspired her to the next choice she made.

"I noticed that [defense attorney] Perry Mason was involved in a lot of the same kinds of investigative work that I had been fascinated with reading Nancy Drew, so I decided to become a lawyer," Sotomayor told the American Bar Association publication in 2000. "Once I focused on becoming a lawyer, I never deviated from that goal."

Her mom, Celina Sotomayor, sent both her and her brother to private Catholic schools. It was her mother who, since an early age, made Sonia and Juan believe in the power of education. It was her tremendous work ethic and her valiant effort to battle juvenile diabetes that helped Sotomayor excel on school. She was valedictorian of her class at Blessed Sacrament and at Cardinal Spellman High School in New York.

She went on to Princeton University where she graduated 1976 as a summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, as well as being the co-recipient of the M. Taylor Pyne Prize, which is the highest honor Princeton awards to an undergraduate. She then earned her J.D. from Yale Law School in 1979, where she was the editor of the Yale Law Journal and as managing editor of the Yale Studies in World Public Order.

On the cover of Time Magazine
On the cover of Time Magazine

One of her Yale Law School classmates, Robert Klonoff described Judge Sotomayor’s intellectual toughness by saying, "She would stand up for herself and not be intimidated by anyone." [Washington Post, 5/7/09]

Sotomayor has worked at almost every level in the judicial system over a span of three decades. In 1979, fresh out of Yale Law School, Sotomayor became an Assistant District Attorney in Manhattan in 1979 where she tried many criminal cases over a span of five years and spent almost every day in the courtroom. She entered private practice in 1984 and became a partner in 1988 at the firm Pavia and Harcourt.

Her judicial service began in October 1992 when President George H.W. Bush appointed her to the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. From 1992-1998 she presided around 450 cases in which she earned a reputation as a “sharp and fearless jurist who does not let powerful interests bully her into departing from the rule of law.”

President William H. Clinton appointed Judge Sotomayor to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in 1998. She also served as an adjunct professor at the NYU School of Law in 1998 and a lecturer at Columbia Law School in 1999.

Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor (washingtonindependent.com)
Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor (washingtonindependent.com)

With all her achievements and recognitions, Sotomayor has also been highly criticized and had the majority of Senate Republicans oppose her nomination for Supreme Court Justice. She was under close observation and was attacked by critics for when she remarked, “Personal experiences and gender have a lot to do with judges’ decisions.” She was also, at one point, criticized for being racist when she made the comment saying, “I would hope a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”

But that belief she has sustained throughout her life is what has allowed her to be where she is today. She has always been true to her word and has defended what she thinks is right. As many people have agreed with her, “Personal experiences affect what judges choose to see,” and there is nothing wrong with that because it allows for a fair decision.

Sotomayor’s personality not only made her liked and respected in the courtroom, but by the people that surrounded her as well. Robin Kar, who was a clerk for Sotomayor from 1998 to 1999, described her as a "warm, extraordinarily kind and caring person."

Sotomayor with President Obama and Vice-President Biden (gettyimages)
Sotomayor with President Obama and Vice-President Biden (gettyimages)

Kar remarked, "She has an amazing story, but she's also just an amazing person." He also added that she has the ability to get to know all of the people around her. "She was the judge who, in the courthouse for example, knew all of the doormen, knew the cafeteria workers, who knew the janitors -- she didn't just know all of the other judges and the politicians. She really went out of her way to get to know everyone and was well loved by everyone," which truly shows the kind of person Sotomayor is.

Sonia Sotomayor’s humility is another great trademark of hers. She mentions, “I stand on the shoulders of countless people, yet there is one extraordinary person who is my life aspiration - that person is my mother, Celina Sotomayor.” To us, Sotomayor is a one of a kind hero, but to Sonia, her mother is the true hero. She taught her that hard-working mentality and led her to everything she has accomplished. Celina now lives in Florida and she still speaks with her everyday.

On May 26th 2009, President Barack Obama nominated Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court Justice. After controversial hearings, Sotomayor became the first Hispanic Justice and third woman on the U.S. Supreme Court. Through hard work and dedication, she has accomplished everything she has set out to do. She has demonstrated that as long as you put your mind to something, you can do it! She is a perfect role model and a prime example that anything is possible. She is a great representative of the Hispanic community and for that we consider her our hero!

Page created on 8/11/2014 4:36:06 PM

Last edited 1/9/2017 6:11:02 PM

Related Links

The White House Press Release - Press release from the White House in Washington D.C. giving a biography of Sonia Sotomayor
To read the Sonia Sotomayor story in Spanish on Mi Héroe

Bibliography

Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Sonia Sotomayor Biography." [Online] Available ..

CNNPolitics.com. "Who is Sonia Sotomayor?." [Online] Available ..

Savage, Charlie. "A Judge's View of Judging Is on the Record." ." [Online] Available http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/15/us/15judge.html?_r=2.

FOX News Radio. "Sonia Sotomayor Confirmation Hearing. "

Fresh Xpress. "Sonia Sotomayor. "

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