Original painting on canvas 2011, In the collection of McGinn, Montoya, Love & Curry. Albuquerque ,N.M.
Sonia Sotomayor was born in 1954 in a South Bronx housing project, proudly identifying herself as Nuyorican, hailing from a distinctive New York Puerto Rican community. Her father died when she was nine and Celina Báez, Sotomayor’s mother, raised her and her brother alone, focussing on their education, pushing the children to become fluent in English and making huge sacrifices to purchase a set of encyclopaedias that would give them proper research materials for school.
Her extreme work ethic in high school gained Sotomayor a place at Princeton University where she was confronted with racism and social stigma. She took the Ivy League head on however, tackling important issues of student and faculty diversity and embracing the current surge of activism and Critical Race Theory.
She combated discriminatory hiring and admissions practices and strived to bring Latin American professors into the university and to add Latin American studies to the curriculum.
She graduated summa cum laude in 1976, being awarded the Pyne Prize, the highest academic award given to a Princeton undergraduate. 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, passed the bar in 1980 and immediately began work as an assistant district attorney in Manhattan, responsible for prosecuting robbery, assault, murder, police brutality and child pornography cases.
In 1984 Sotomayor opened a private practice and sat on the board of the Puerto Rican Legal Defence and Education Fund working on “New York City hiring practices, police brutality, the death penalty, and voting rights”. She became a partner in the law firm Pavia & Harcourt, in 1988. and served on the New York City Campaign Finance Board. Later she served in public service for the State of New York Mortgage Agency, an organization that supported affordable housing; a cause she supported vociferously.
Teaching at New York University School of Law as well as Columbia Law School, in 1992 she was nominated by George H. W. Bush to the New York District Court and confirmed unanimously in 1993 as the first “[Latina] federal judge in New York State”. In 1997 President Bill Clinton nominated her to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Her current seat as Associate Supreme Court Justice was an honourable nomination by President Barak Obama in 2008. She is the second jurist in U.S. History to receive nominations for three different judicial positions by three presidents.
Sotomayor’s judicial career has involved significant rulings in cases of abortion, Amendment rights, civil rights, property rights and multiple forms of discrimination. As an Associate Justice, Sotomayor has brought focus to defendant rights, race, gender, ethnicity and criminal justice system reform.
Some may perceive Sotomayor’s upbringing and background as obstacles to success but she turned those challenges into great motivators to make changes to society and the justice system whilst tirelessly supporting Latin Americans living in the United States.
In her own words.
The Latina in me is an ember that blazes forever