Sonia Sotomayor was born June 25, 1954, in the Bronx, New York. Her desire to be a judge was first inspired by the TV showPerry Mason. She graduated from Yale Law School and passed the bar in 1980. She 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 became the first Latina Supreme Court Justice in U.S. history.
Federal judge. Born as the eldest of two children in the South Bronx area of New York City, New York, on June 25, 1954. Parents Juan and Celina (Baez) Sotomayor, who were of Puerto Rican descent, moved to New York City to raise the family. 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 who died when Sotomayor was only nine years old.
Sotomayor’s first leanings toward the justice system began after watching an episode of the television show Perry Mason. After a prosecutor on the program said he did not mind losing when a defendant turned out to be innocent, Sotomayor said 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.”
After their father’s death, Sotomayor’s mother worked hard to raise the 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 struggling to afford a set of encyclopedias to give them proper research materials for school.
Sotomayor graduated from Cardinal Spellman High School in the Bronx in 1972 and entered the ivy-league Princeton University. The young Latina woman felt overwhelmed by her new school; after her first mid-term paper returned to her with low marks, she sought help with more English and writing classes. She also became highly involved with the Puerto Rican groups on campus, including Accion Puertorriquena 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 working on 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, and passed the bar in 1980. She immediately began work as an assistant district attorney in the Manhattan borough of New York City, serving a trial lawyer under District Attorney Robert Morgenthau. Sotomayor was responsible for prosecuting robberies, assaults, murders, police brutality and child pornography cases.
In 1984 Sotomayor entered private practice, making partner at the commercial litigation firm Pavia & Harcourt, where specialized in intellectual property litigation. She moved from associate to partner at Pavia & Harcourt in 1988. While she climbed the ladder at the firm, Sotomayor also served on the board of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, the New York City Campaign Finance Board, and State of New York Mortgage Agency.
Her pro bono work at these agencies caught the attention of Senator Edward M. Kennedy and U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan who were partially responsible for Sotomayor’s 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 U.S. Senate on August 11, 1992. When she joined the court, she was its youngest judge. On October 3, 1998, she was elevated to the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals by President William Clinton. She was confirmed by a 68 to 28 vote of the U.S. Senate.
In addition to her work in the Court of Appeals, Sotomayor also began teaching adjunct law 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. She also serves on the Board of Trustees at Princeton.
On May 26, 2009, President Barack Obama announced his nomination of Sonia Sotomayor for Supreme Court Justice. The nomination was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in August of 2009 by a vote of 68 to 31. As a result Sotomayor, became the first Latina Supreme Court Justice in U.S. history.