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Sonia Sotomayor Biography

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Judge Sonia Sotomayor with Celina Sotomayor, undated photograph

Judge Sonia Sotomayor with Celina Sotomayor, undated photograph

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Sonia Sotomayor Facts:

Dates: June 25, 1954 -
Occupation: lawyer, judge
Known for: the first* Hispanic justice on the United States Supreme Court

Sonia Sotomayor Biography:

Sonia Sotomayor, raised in poverty, was nominated on May 26, 2009, for the United States Supreme Court by President Barack Obama. After contentious confirmation hearings, Sonia Sotomayor became the first Hispanic Justice and third woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Sonia Sotomayor was raised in the Bronx in a housing project. Her parents were born in Puerto Rico, and came to New York during World War II.

Childhood:

Sonia Sotomayor was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes (Type I) when she was 8. She spoke mostly Spanish until the death of her father, a tool and die maker, when she was 9. Her mother, Celina, worked for a methadone clinic as a nurse, and sent her two children, Juan (now a physician) and Sonia, to private Catholic schools.

College:

Sonia Sotomayor excelled in school, and finished her undergraduate study at Princeton with honors including membership in Phi Beta Kappa and the M. Taylor Pyne Prize, the highest honor give to undergraduates at Princeton. She earned a law degree from Yale Law School in 1979. At Yale, she had the distinction of being the editor in 1979 of the Yale University Law Review and managing editor of the Yale Studies in World Public Order.

Prosecutor and Private Practice:

She served as a prosecutor in New York County District Attorney's Office from 1979 to 1984, an assistant to Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgentha. Sotomayor was in private practice in New York City from 1984 to 1992 as an associate and partner at Pavia and Harcourt in New York City.

Federal Judge:

Sonia Sotomayor was nominated by George H. W. Bush on November 27, 1991, to serve as a federal judge, and she was confirmed by the Senate on August 11 of 1992. She was nominated on June 25, 1997, for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals, Second Circuit, by President William J. Clinton, and was confirmed by the Senate on October 2, 1998, after a long delay by Senate Republicans. President Barack Obama nominated her as a justice on the United States Supreme Court in May, 2009, for the seat held by Justice David Souter. She was confirmed by the Senate in August, 2009, after strong criticism from Republicans, especially focused around her statement from about 2001 that "I would hope that 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."

Other Legal Work:

Sonia Sotomayor has also served as an adjunct professor at the NYU School of Law, 1998 to 2007, and a lecturer at Columbia Law School beginning in 1999.

Sonia Sotomayor's legal practice included general civil litigation, trademark and copyright.

*Note: Benjamin Cardozo, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court from 1932 to 1938, was of Portuguese (Sephardic Jewish) descent, but did not identify with Hispanic culture in the current sense of that term. His ancestors were in America before the American Revolution, and had left Portugal during the Inquisition. Emma Lazarus, the poet, was his cousin.

Education:

  • Cardinal Spellman High School, Bronx, NY
  • Princeton University, B.A. 1976, summa cum laude; Phi Beta Kappa, M. Taylor Pyne Prize
  • Yale Law School, J.D. 1979
  • Yale Law School, L.L.D. 1999,

Family:

  • Father: (tool and die maker, died when she was nine)
  • Mother: Celina (nurse at a methadone clinic)
  • Brother: Juan, a physician
  • husband: Kevin Edward Noonan (married Aug. 14, 1976, divorced 1983)

Organizations: American Bar Association, Association of Hispanic Judges, Hispanic Bar Association, New York Women's Bar Association, American Philosophical Society

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