Written by Marcel Henderson
Editor, Assistant District Attorney, Professor, Associate Supreme Court Justice
Sonia Sotomayor was born on the 25th of June, 1954 in New York City of the United States in the Bronx borough to her two parents Juan and Celina Sotomayor. Raised as a Catholic by her Puerto Rican parents, she lived a relatively modest life, until she sparked an interest in what would later become her life’s calling – after watching an episode of the popular legal drama Perry Mason, she was set on the path of a legal career that would work not simply to win cases, but to bring justice wherever it was needed.
When her father died, Sonia was only 9 years old. Her mother worked even more tirelessly to ensure that Sonia would not be denied access to higher education; she spent a lot of money on a set of Encyclopedia Britannica to make sure that her daughter could keep up in school and pushed hard for her to learn the English Language. This dedication paid off dividends, as Sotomayor not only graduated her high school in 1972, but was accepted into the Ivy League Princeton University Institution. Facing difficulties fitting in, she later began to involve herself with the Puerto Rican student groups on campus that helped her adjust to the new environment and worked with the discipline committee at the university to hone her legal prowess. After much hard work, she finally graduated from Princeton summa cum laude in 1976, where she was also given the Pyne Prize, an academic honor of the highest undergraduate prestige.
After her graduation, Sotomayor immediately enrolled in Yale Law school that same year: where she worked as an editor for the Yale Law Journal. After passing the bar in 1980, she worked as an assistant district attorney in Manhattan until 1984, when she entered private practice at the legal firm Pavia & Harcourt (and became full partner in 1988). At the same time, she was working pro bono for many great legal causes, such as the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, which helped to provide resources to members of the Puerto Rican community that did not have access to them. Her work on these things led to her being appointed as a District Court judge for New York City’s Southern District in 1992, and during this time also served as an adjunct professor at Columbia Law School in 1999.
In May of 2009, president Barack Obama nominated Sotomayor for Supreme Court justice, and she was confirmed in August of the same year by a 68-31 vote, which was a monumentally landmark decision that cemented Sonia as the first Latinx member of the United States Supreme Court in history. She wasted no time in using the position to further the cause of underprivileged and discriminated groups in the country, as she was a key figure in upholding the Affordable Care Act (also known as “Obamacare”) and was in the majority for the historic 5-4 decision that legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states of the country. Sotomayor is an influential and inspirational example of a latinx individual who had humble beginnings; but through ambition, passion, and strong-willed empathy became a stalwart legal defender of the rights for the less-heard and under-represented people.