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Sonia Sotomayor
Official portrait of Sonia Sotomayor in 2009
Official portrait, 2009
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
Assumed office
August 8, 2009
Nominated by Barack Obama
Preceded by David Souter
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
In office
October 7, 1998 – August 6, 2009
Nominated by Bill Clinton
Preceded by J. Daniel Mahoney
Succeeded by Raymond Lohier
Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York
In office
August 12, 1992 – October 7, 1998
Nominated by George H. W. Bush
Preceded by John M. Walker Jr.
Succeeded by Victor Marrero
Personal details
Sonia Maria Sotomayor

(1954-06-25) June 25, 1954 (age 69)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Kevin Noonan
(m. 1976; div. 1983)
Signature Cursive signature in ink

Sonia Maria Sotomayor ( born June 25, 1954) is an American lawyer and jurist who serves as an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. She was nominated by President Barack Obama on May 26, 2009, and has served since August 8, 2009. She is the third woman, first woman of color, the first Hispanic, and first Latina to serve on the Supreme Court.

In 2008, Esquire magazine included Sotomayor on its list of "The 75 Most Influential People of the 21st Century".

Early life

A woman and man, both in their thirties and both dressed in 'Sunday best', hold a similarly dressed very young girl standing on the arm of a floral-print sofa.
Sotomayor and her parents
A studio pose of a six- or seven-year-old girl with short dark curly hair in a sleeveless print dress.
Sotomayor as a young girl

Sotomayor was born in the New York City borough of The Bronx. Her parents were from Puerto Rico. Her father, Juan Sotomayor (c. 1921–1964), did not speak English, and worked as a tool and die worker. Her mother, Celina Báez (1927–2021), was a a telephone operator and then a practical nurse.

Sonia's younger brother, Juan Sotomayor (born c. 1957), later became a physician and university professor in the Syracuse, New York, area.

Sonia's father died of heart problems at age 42, when she was nine years old.

Her mother put great stress on the value of education and bought the Encyclopædia Britannica for her children.

Sotomayor attended Blessed Sacrament School in Soundview, where she was valedictorian and had a near-perfect attendance record. She passed the entrance tests for and then attended Cardinal Spellman High School in the Bronx. She graduated as valedictorian in 1972.

College and law school

Sotomayor attended Princeton University. As a student activist, she successfully persuaded historian Peter Winn to create a seminar on Puerto Rican history and politics. Sotomayor joined the governance board of Princeton's Third World Center and served on the university's student–faculty Discipline Committee.

Sotomayor5 NassauHerald
Sotomayor's 1976 Princeton yearbook photo

In 1979, Sotomayor was awarded a Juris Doctor from Yale Law School. She was admitted to the New York Bar the following year.

Early legal career

Sotomayor was hired out of law school as an assistant district attorney under New York County District Attorney Robert Morgenthau starting in 1979. She showed a passion for bringing law and order to the streets of New York. She worked 15-hour days and gained a reputation for being driven and for her preparedness and fairness.

In 1984, she entered private practice.

In addition to her law firm work, Sotomayor found visible public service roles. She was a member of the board of directors of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund from 1980 to 1992. There she was a top policy maker who worked actively with the organization's lawyers on issues such as New York City hiring practices, police brutality, the death penalty, and voting rights.

During 1985 and 1986, Sotomayor served on the board of the Maternity Center Association, a Manhattan-based non-profit group which focused on improving the quality of maternity care.

Federal district judge

Sotomayor was nominated on November 27, 1991, by President George H. W. Bush to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York vacated by John M. Walker Jr. .

She became the youngest judge in the Southern District and the first Hispanic federal judge in New York State. She became the first Puerto Rican woman to serve as a judge in a U.S. federal court. She was one of seven women among the district's 58 judges.

Court of Appeals judge

Sonia Sotomayor 1 with her godson 2, 1998
Judge Sonia Sotomayor with her godson at the United States Court of Appeals signing ceremony in 1998

On June 25, 1997, Sotomayor was nominated by President Bill Clinton to a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which was vacated by J. Daniel Mahoney.

Over her ten years on the Second Circuit, Sotomayor heard appeals in more than 3,000 cases.

Supreme Court justice

Barack Obama & Joe Biden with Sonia Sotamayor
President Barack Obama meets with Judge Sonia Sotomayor and Vice President Joe Biden prior to an announcement in the East Room, May 26, 2009.

In May 2009, President Barack Obama nominated Sotomayor to the Supreme Court following the retirement of Justice David Souter. Her nomination was confirmed by the Senate in August 2009 by a vote of 68–31. She became only the second jurist to be nominated to three different judicial positions by three different presidents.

Sonia Sotomayor on first day of confirmation hearings
Sotomayor before the Senate Judiciary Committee for the first day of hearings on July 13, 2009
O'Connor, Sotomayor, Ginsburg, and Kagan
The first four women Supreme Court Justices: Sandra Day O'Connor, Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Elena Kagan. O'Connor is not wearing a robe because she is retired from the Court.

During her tenure on the Court, Sotomayor has become recognizable as being among the Court's strongest voices in supporting the rights of the accused. She has been identified by Laurence Tribe as the foremost voice on the Court calling for reforming criminal justice adjudication—in particular as it relates misconduct by police and prosecutors, abuses in prisons, concerns about how the death penalty is used, and the potential for loss of privacy.

Other activities

Sonia Sotomayor 8 at stadium
Sotomayor with her nephews at the original Yankee Stadium in 2007

Sotomayor was an adjunct professor at New York University School of Law from 1998 to 2007. Beginning in 1999, she was also a lecturer in law at Columbia Law School. She became a member of the Board of Trustees of Princeton University in 2006, concluding her term in 2011. In 2008, Sotomayor became a member of the Belizean Grove, an invitation-only women's group modeled after the men's Bohemian Grove. On June 19, 2009, Sotomayor resigned from the Belizean Grove.

While on the Supreme Court she has been invited to give commencement addresses at a number of universities including New York University (2012), Yale University (2013), and the University of Puerto Rico (2014). Her speeches often focused on ethnic identity and experience, the need for diversity, and America's struggle with the implications of its diverse makeup.

In January 2013, Sotomayor published her memoir titled My Beloved World (Mi mundo adorado in the simultaneously published Spanish edition). It focuses on her life up to 1992. It received good reviews and debuted atop the New York Times Best Seller List.

Awards and honors

Sonia Sotomayor by Gage Skidmore
Sotomayor at the 2017 John P. Frank Memorial Lecture at Arizona State University as the guest of honor

Sotomayor has received honorary law degrees from Lehman College (1999), Princeton University (2001), Brooklyn Law School (2001), Pace University School of Law (2003), Hofstra University (2006), Northeastern University School of Law (2007), Howard University (2010), St. Lawrence University (2010), Paris Nanterre University (2010), New York University (2012), Yale University (2013), and the University of Puerto Rico at Río Piedras (2014).

She was elected a member of the American Philosophical Society in 2002. She was given the Outstanding Latino Professional Award in 2006 by the Latino/a Law Students Association. In 2013, Sotomayor won the Woodrow Wilson Award at her alma mater Princeton University.

In June 2010, the Bronxdale Houses development, where Sotomayor grew up, was renamed after her. The Justice Sonia Sotomayor Houses and Justice Sonia Sotomayor Community Center comprise 28 buildings with some 3,500 residents. While many New York housing developments are named after well-known people, this was only the second to be named after a former resident. In 2011, the Sonia M. Sotomayor Learning Academies, a public high school complex in Los Angeles, was named after her.

In 2013, a painting featuring her, Sandra Day O'Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Elena Kagan was unveiled at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.

In May 2015 she received the Katharine Hepburn medal from Bryn Mawr College.

In 2019, she was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame.

Personal life

On August 14, 1976, just after graduating from Princeton, Sotomayor married Kevin Edward Noonan, whom she had dated since high school, in a small chapel at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York. She used the married name Sonia Sotomayor de Noonan. He became a biologist and a patent lawyer. Sotomayor and Noonan divorced amicably in 1983; they did not have children.

Interesting facts about Sonia Sotomayor

  • Sotomayor is the first Hispanic to serve on the Supreme Court.
  • She has been a lifelong fan of the New York Yankees.
  • Sotomayor had wanted to become a judge since she was in elementary school.
  • She was inspired to pursue a legal career by watching the Perry Mason television series.
  • While at Princeton University, Sotomayor volunteered as an interpreter for Latino patients at Trenton Psychiatric Hospital.
  • Sotomayor is known for her impassioned dissents on issues of race, gender and ethnic identity.
  • In 2012, she made two appearances on the children's television program Sesame Street, demonstrating how a judge hears a case.
  • In January 2021, Sonia Sotomayor swore in Kamala Harris as the Vice President of the United States. It was considered historic as Sotomayor is the first Woman of Color to serve on the Supreme Court and Harris is the first Woman, African-American, and Asian American Vice President.

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Sonia Sotomayor para niños

  • Barack Obama Supreme Court candidates
  • Demographics of the Supreme Court of the United States
  • History of women in Puerto Rico
  • List of Puerto Ricans
  • List of justices of the Supreme Court of the United States
  • List of law clerks of the Supreme Court of the United States (Seat 3)
  • List of Roman Catholic United States Supreme Court justices
  • List of United States Supreme Court justices by time in office
  • Nuyorican
  • Puerto Ricans in the United States

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