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Sonia Sotomayor

Biography>> Women Leaders
Portrait of Sonia Sotomayor in her justice robe
Sonia Sotomayor
by Steve Petteway

Where did Sonia Sotomayor grow up?

Sonia Sotomayor was born on June 25, 1954 in the New York City borough of the Bronx. Her parents, Juan and Celina, were both born in Puerto Rico, but didn't meet until after they immigrated to New York City. Her mother worked as a nurse and her father a tool and die worker.

Sonia did not have an easy childhood. At the age of seven, she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. From that day forward she has had to give herself regular insulin shots. At the age of nine her father died from heart conditions. It was during these trying times that Sonia's grandmother gave her a sense of "protection and purpose."


Despite the many challenges of her childhood, Sonia was an excellent student. She graduated valedictorian of her high school class in 1972 and received a full scholarship to Princeton University. Sonia graduated from Princeton with a degree in history in 1976. Her senior year she earned the Pyne Honor Prize, which is considered the "highest general distinction conferred on an undergraduate" at Princeton.

After Princeton, Sotomayor enrolled in Yale Law School. At Yale she worked as an editor of the Yale Law Journal. She also advocated for more Hispanic faculty at the school. She graduated in 1979 and passed the New York Bar Exam in 1980 to become a licensed lawyer.

Sotomayor shaking hands with President Obama
President Barack Obama talks with Justice Sonia Sotomayor
by Pete Souza
Early Career

Sotomayor's first job out of school was working as an assistant district attorney in New York. As an assistant district attorney, she worked with the police to prosecute criminals. Over the next several years, Sotomayor worked long days and participated in all sorts of criminal trials.

In 1984, Sotomayor went to work for a Manhattan law firm. In this job she worked as a business lawyer working corporate cases such as intellectual property and international law. She was a successful lawyer and became a partner in the firm in 1988.

Becoming a Judge

Sotomayor's longtime career dream was to become a judge. In 1991, she finally got that opportunity when she was appointed to the U.S. District Court by President George H. W. Bush. She quickly earned a reputation as a judge who was well-prepared and focused on "just the facts."

In one of her most famous rulings, Sotomayor stopped Major League Baseball from using replacement players during the 1994-95 baseball strike. This effectively brought an end to the strike making baseball fans very happy.

In 1997, Sotomayor was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals by President Bill Clinton. She served on the Court of Appeals for just over 10 years and heard appeals on over 3,000 cases.

Supreme Court Nomination

When Supreme Court Justice David Souter retired in 2009, President Barack Obama nominated Sotomayor for the position. Her nomination was approved by the Senate and she became a U.S. Supreme Court Justice on August 8, 2009. At the time she was the first Hispanic and Latina member of the court. She was also the third woman to become a Supreme Court Justice.

Serving on the U.S. Supreme Court

As a Supreme Court Justice, Sotomayor is considered to be part of the liberal bloc of justices. She is known for being a strong voice in supporting the rights of the accused. She has participated in many important rulings, including J.D.B. v. North Carolina, United States v. Alvarez, and Arizona v. the United States.

Four women Justices standing
Four of the women who have served on the U.S. Supreme Court.
From left to right: Sandra Day O'Connor, Sonia Sotomayor,
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Elena Kagan

by Steve Petteway
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