Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor considers herself 'Nuyorican' and has said that these roots shaped her.

Supreme Court Jus­tice Sonia Sotomay­or con­sid­ers her­self ‘Nuy­or­i­can’ and has said that these roots shaped her.

The Demo­c­ra­t­ic-led Sen­ate has vot­ed to con­firm Sonia Sotomay­or, who is now poised to be sworn in as the nation’s first His­pan­ic (PUERTO RICAN)  Supreme Court jus­tice.

On April 30, 2009, it was report­ed that Supreme Court Jus­tice David Souter would retire.   Sonia Sotomay­or is a judge in the U.S. Court of Appeals,  Sec­ond Cir­cuit,  in Man­hat­tan.   Sotomay­or is the first Puer­to Rican woman to serve as a U.S. Cir­cuit Court judge.  Since 2008 she has been spec­u­lat­ed to be on Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s short list of poten­tial nom­i­nees to the Supreme Court.

May 26, 2009 Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma nom­i­nat­ed Fed­er­al Appeals judge Sonia Sotomay­or as his choice to be the next Supreme Court Judge mak­ing her the first His­pan­ic in his­to­ry picked to be Supreme Court Judge.  Sotomay­or want­ed to be a judge since age 10.

 

New York judge rises from the projects to the Supreme Court

Judge Sonia Sotomayor with her mother and father.

Judge Sonia Sotomay­or with her moth­er and father.

Sonia Sotomayor’s path to the pin­na­cle of the legal pro­fes­sion began in the 1960s at a Bronx hous­ing project just a cou­ple blocks from Yan­kee Sta­di­um, where she and her fam­i­ly dealt with one strug­gle after anoth­er.

She suf­fered juve­nile dia­betes that forced her to start insulin injec­tions at age 8. Her father died the next year, leav­ing her to be raised by her moth­er — a nurse at a methadone clin­ic who always kept a pot of rice and beans on the stove. The par­ents had immi­grat­ed from Puer­to Rico.

Sotomay­or immersed her­self in Nan­cy Drew books and spent hours watch­ing Per­ry Mason on tele­vi­sion, and knew she want­ed to be a judge by the age of 10 after being inspired by a Per­ry Mason episode that end­ed with the cam­era set­tling on the robed sage.

“I real­ized that the judge was the most impor­tant play­er in that room,” Sotomay­or said in a 1998 inter­view with The Asso­ci­at­ed Press.

Scrutiny ahead

President Barack Obama meets with Appeals Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor, the nominee to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice David Souter, and Vice President Joseph Biden prior to an announcement in the East Room, May 26, 2009

Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma meets with Appeals Court Judge Sonia Sotomay­or, the nom­i­nee to replace retir­ing Supreme Court Jus­tice David Souter, and Vice Pres­i­dent Joseph Biden pri­or to an announce­ment in the East Room, May 26, 2009

Now, Sotomay­or is one of the most impor­tant play­ers in the nation after being nom­i­nat­ed for a Supreme Court seat by Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma. It is the crown­ing accom­plish­ment in a career that includ­ed a long list of achieve­ments: Yale Law School; a stint as a pros­e­cu­tor and at a Man­hat­tan law firm; a key rul­ing in 1995 that brought Major League Base­ball back to the nation after a strike; and most recent­ly a job as a fed­er­al appeals judge.

The Man­hat­tan-born Sotomayor’s hum­ble upbring­ing has shaped her per­son­al­i­ty — vibrant and col­or­ful, and so dif­fer­ent from the Bronx projects where she grew up in a work­ing-class exis­tence in a home with a drab yel­low kitchen.

She is a food-lov­ing base­ball buff as like­ly to eat a hot dog at a street cor­ner stand as she is to sit down for a lengthy meal at a swanky Man­hat­tan restau­rant.

Her work and every­thing else in her life are sure to face close scruti­ny in the months ahead in a process Sotomay­or is all too famil­iar with. Her nom­i­na­tion to the appeals court was delayed 15 months, report­ed­ly because of con­cerns by Repub­li­cans that she might some­day be con­sid­ered for the Supreme Court.

“I don’t think any­body looked at me as a woman or as a His­pan­ic and said, ‘We’re not going to appoint her because of those char­ac­ter­is­tics.’ Clear­ly that’s not what occurred,” she recalled in the 1998 inter­view.

“But I do believe there are gen­der and eth­nic stereo­types that pro­pel peo­ple to assump­tions about what they expect­ed me to be,” she con­tin­ued. “I obvi­ous­ly felt that any bal­anced view of my work would not sup­port some of the alle­ga­tions being made.”

The judge who saved baseball

Her base­ball rul­ing in 1995 was among the most impor­tant moments of her career. Because of her posi­tion on the bench in New York, she was put in the posi­tion to essen­tial­ly decide the future of the sport she so loved.

Acknowl­edg­ing the piv­otal moment, Sotomay­or described how it is “when you see an out­field­er backpedal­ing and jump­ing up to the wall and time stops for an instant as he jumps up and you final­ly fig­ure out whether it’s a home run, a dou­ble or a sin­gle off the wall or an out.”

Then she scold­ed base­ball own­ers for unfair labor prac­tices and urged lawyers for strik­ing play­ers and the own­ers to sal­vage the 1995 sea­son, reach a new labor agree­ment and change their atti­tudes.

As she showed with her March 1995 base­ball rul­ing, the 54-year-old Sotomay­or embraces the dra­mat­ic moment as well as any of the rough­ly 80 judges in the low­er Man­hat­tan cour­t­house that has been her home since her appoint­ment to the bench in 1992 by Pres­i­dent Bush.

Key rulings

As a dis­trict judge, she advanced First Amend­ment reli­gious claims by toss­ing out a state prison rule ban­ning mem­bers of a reli­gious sect from wear­ing col­ored beads to ward off evil spir­its, and by reject­ing a sub­ur­ban law pre­vent­ing the dis­play of a 9-foot-high meno­rah in a park.

In 1995, she released the sui­cide note of for­mer White House aide Vin­cent Fos­ter, act­ing on lit­i­ga­tion brought by the Wall Street Jour­nal under the Free­dom of Infor­ma­tion Act.

Sotomay­or, who has a broth­er who became a doc­tor, presided over a civ­il tri­al in 1996 in which the fam­i­ly of a lawyer who died from AIDS sued the mak­ers of the movie, “Philadel­phia,” con­tend­ing that Hol­ly­wood stole their sto­ry. The case was set­tled but not before the movie with its dra­mat­ic court­room show­downs was aired in court in its entire­ty, prompt­ing Sotomay­or to cau­tion: “I don’t expect melo­dra­ma here. I don’t want any­body aspir­ing to what they see on the screen.”

A year lat­er, she ruled in favor of the cre­ators of the “Sein­feld” show in a claim that a triv­ia book infringed on their tele­vi­sion program’s copy­right. Sotomay­or grad­u­at­ed sum­ma cum laude from Prince­ton, then became an edi­tor of the Yale Law Jour­nal at Yale Law School. She then joined the Man­hat­tan dis­trict attorney’s office and the board of the Puer­to Rican Legal Defense and Edu­ca­tion Fund.

She spent five years as a pros­e­cu­tor before join­ing the mid­town law firm of Pavia & Har­court, where she worked eight years before her appoint­ment to the fed­er­al bench.

Sotomay­or is less afflu­ent than many of the typ­i­cal high court prospects. Though draw­ing a six-fig­ure income, she lives in expen­sive Man­hat­tan. Sotomay­or earned $179,500 as a fed­er­al appel­late judge in New York last year, plus $14,780 teach­ing at New York University’s law school and $10,000 as a lec­tur­er at Colum­bia University’s law school, accord­ing to her most recent finan­cial dis­clo­sure report.

Sotomay­or owns a con­do­mini­um in trendy Green­wich Vil­lage. She has had the prop­er­ty since at least 1998, and took out a $350,000 mort­gage from JPMor­gan Chase Bank last fall, the city records show. Sotomay­or refi­nanced and used pro­ceeds for ren­o­va­tions, her office said.

The con­do, the only prop­er­ty Sotomay­or owns, appears to be her pri­ma­ry asset. Oth­er units in the build­ing have sold for $900,000 to $1.5 mil­lion over the past five years, city records show.

Sotomay­or list­ed two bank accounts as her only invest­ments: $50,000 to $100,000 in a Citibank sav­ings account and up to $15,000 in a check­ing account.

An independent streak

The four women who have served on the Supreme Court of the United States. From left to right: Justice Sandra Day O'Connor (Ret.), Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Justice Elena Kagan in the Justices' Conference Room, prior to Justice Kagan's Investiture Ceremony on October 1, 2010.

The four women who have served on the Supreme Court of the Unit­ed States. From left to right: Jus­tice San­dra Day O’Connor (Ret.), Jus­tice Sonia Sotomay­or, Jus­tice Ruth Bad­er Gins­burg, and Jus­tice Ele­na Kagan in the Jus­tices’ Con­fer­ence Room, pri­or to Jus­tice Kagan’s Investi­ture Cer­e­mo­ny on Octo­ber 1, 2010.

Since join­ing the 2nd U.S. Cir­cuit Court of Appeals, Sotomay­or has shown an inde­pen­dent streak and an inter­est in sep­a­rat­ing emo­tion from inter­pre­ta­tion of the law, as she did in writ­ing the dis­sent in a 2-to-1 deci­sion in 2000. The appeals court ruled that the 1996 crash of TWA Flight 800 eight miles off the coast of Long Island occurred with­in U.S. ter­ri­to­r­i­al waters, allow­ing vic­tims’ fam­i­lies to sue for dam­ages that would have been barred if it hap­pened in inter­na­tion­al seas.

Sotomay­or said it seemed that the appeals pan­el was ignor­ing leg­isla­tive his­to­ry and ear­li­er case law “in an under­stand­able desire to pro­vide the rel­a­tives and estate rep­re­sen­ta­tives … a more gen­er­ous recov­ery.”

She said it was clear that Con­gress intend­ed the Death on the High Seas Act to apply to any deaths that hap­pened beyond three nau­ti­cal miles from the U.S. coast and that those who draft­ed the law want­ed to “pro­vide a rem­e­dy, not the most gen­er­ous rem­e­dy.”

Her rul­ings and com­ments dur­ing oral argu­ments also have reflect­ed a law-and-order inter­est.

In 2000, she warned a lawyer who appealed the 30-year prison sen­tence giv­en to a police offi­cer who sodom­ized a defen­dant that the appeals court might sug­gest the sen­tence should be increased because of the bru­tal­i­ty of the crime.

In 2007, she wrote an appeals opin­ion find­ing it was con­sti­tu­tion­al for state troop­ers to lure sus­pects away from two vehi­cles while they searched the cars for cocaine.

“There was ample prob­a­ble cause to sup­port these search­es, and a dis­in­ter­est­ed mag­is­trate judge assured­ly would have issued a war­rant had one been sought,” she wrote.

In anoth­er case, she gave an asy­lum seek­er a sec­ond chance after his claim was reject­ed because he failed to appear at a hear­ing because his attor­ney was upstairs in pos­ses­sion of the doc­u­ment he need­ed to get into the build­ing.

Sotomay­or describes her­self as “extra­or­di­nar­i­ly intense and very fun-lov­ing.”

At a recent pro­gram hon­or­ing the cre­ator of a doc­u­men­tary show­ing chil­dren who have thrived even in threat­en­ing envi­ron­ments, Sotomay­or, her round face beam­ing, seemed to be enjoy­ing the atten­tion she was receiv­ing as her nom­i­na­tion to the Supreme Court seemed like­ly.

In brief remarks, Sotomay­or described the doc­u­men­tary as fab­u­lous.

“We should applaud more fre­quent­ly those who trans­form a lost life,” Sotomay­or said.

As Sotomay­or saw it, she was not so far from her hum­ble child­hood that she was not emo­tion­al­ly touched when she signed her first judg­ment of con­vic­tion after becom­ing a judge.

“That emo­tion will nev­er leave me — humil­i­ty,” she said. “A deep, deep sense of humil­i­ty. And a deep, deep sense of there but for the grace of God could I have gone and many that I have loved.”