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First Latino U.S. Supreme Court Justice 

Trailblazer of the Day | Friday, October 5, 2013

Hon. Sonia Maria Sotomayor

When the U.S. Supreme Court begins its 2013 Fall session on the traditional first Monday of October, it faces a range of thorny issues, such as affirmative action and campaign finance reform. And for only the fourth year in its 223-year history, the nation’s high court will have the benefit of a strong Latina voice in its deliberations.

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor was born in 1954 in the Bronx, New York City to parents from Puerto Rico. Hers was a challenging childhood: growing up in public housing, being diagnosed with diabetes at age seven and losing her father to heart disease when she was just nine.

Young Sonia taught herself English by reading the Encyclopedia Britannica and was valedictorian at Cardinal Spellman High School. She attended Princeton University (one of only 20 Latinos on campus), and did her senior thesis on Luis Muñoz Marin, Puerto Rico’s first elected governor. She graduated summa cum laude, then entered Yale Law School where she served as editor of the Yale Law Journal and earned her J.D. in 1979.

Sotomayor worked as Assistant District Attorney in the New York County District Attorney's Office from 1979 to 1984, then worked in private practice until 1992. President George H.W. Bush nominated her to the U.S. District Court (Southern District of New York), where she served for six years. She is best-known for her 1995 ruling in Silverman v. Major League Baseball Player Relations Committee, Inc., which ended the baseball strike on the eve of Opening Day.

In 1997, President Bill Clinton nominated Judge Sotomayor to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, where she and served until 2009, when she was nominated by President Barack Obama to fill Justice David Souter’s seat on the High Court. She was confirmed by Congress the following August, making her the first Latino Supreme Court Justice.

Justice Sotomayor has been a trailblazer in other ways, too. She is:

  • Only the second judge in U.S. history to be named to three different judicial posts by three different Presidents.
  • One of three women on the Supreme Court, the most ever.
  • The first Supreme Court Justice to appear on Sesame Street.