Today we honor and celebrate a woman dedicated to justice who is working hard to restore integrity to our nation’s highest court — quite the ambitious task while Scalia is on the bench. Sonia Sotomayor was born in the Bronx in 1954 to parents who had recently moved to New York from Puerto Rico. Her mother and grandmother stressed the importance of education, and she worked hard in school, initially hoping to be a detective (inspired by Nancy Drew). A Type 1 Diabetes diagnosis at age seven led her family and doctors to recommend a less strenuous career choice, so she decided she wanted to be a judge–I wonder if her parents detected the irony here?
She attended Princeton, where she was a distinct minority both as a woman and a Latina. She received her undergraduate degree in History, winning numerous scholastic prizes in her final year and graduating summa cum laude. She immediately started law school at Yale, where she was once again in the distinct minority. Attending on a scholarship, she was stunned when a major law firm suggested during a recruitment dinner that she was at Yale solely because she was Latina. She terminated the interview and filed a formal complaint, resulting in a favorable ruling from a campus tribunal and a formal apology from the firm. Brava, Justice Sotomayor!
After receiving her J.D. and passing the New York Bar, she began work as an assistant district attorney, focusing on crimes against persons and police brutality. She developed a reputation for going wherever she needed to go to get evidence, regardless of the neighborhood. After a few years she went into private practice and was appointed to a number of Boards and task forces by New York governors and New York City mayors. She expanded her reputation as a strong advocate for the marginalized–a voice for social justice!
In 1991 she realized her childhood dream and became a judge for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, the first Hispanic federal judge in the state. Six years later she was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second District. She faced a brutal confirmation hearing, with Senate Republicans stalling for months and grilling her on her decisions favoring gay rights and due process. Once seated, she expanded her reputation as a strong, fair judge interested in protecting the rights of the most vulnerable; imagine that, a judge working for civil rights for all?
Sonia Sotomayor became a Supreme Court Justice in 2009. She settled in quickly and works hard to ensure that the loud, conservative voices on the Court don’t dominate when cases come forward. She made news recently for harshly criticizing a Texas prosecutor whose argument relied on racist stereotyping. During hearings on a case regarding the Voting Rights Act, she refused to allow an Alabama attorney to hide his county’s racist history.
Why would we vote in favor of a county whose record is the epitome of what caused the passage of this law to start with?
When Justices Scalia and Alito tried to bail the attorney out with far-fetched hypotheticals, she weighed in again.
The problem with those hypotheticals is obvious [...] it’s a real record as to what Alabama has done to earn its place on the list. Discrimination is discrimination, and what Congress said is it continues.
Thank you, Justice Sotomayor, for standing up for those who most need it. May your time on the Court be long and productive!