Sonia Maria Sotomayor (/ˈsoʊtəˌmaɪ.ər/; Spanish: [ˈsonja
sotomaˈʝor]; born June 25, 1954) is an
Associate Justice of the
Supreme Court of the United States, serving since August 2009. She has
the distinction of being its first justice of
Hispanic descent and the
Sotomayor was born in The Bronx, New York City, to Puerto Rican-born
parents. Her father died when she was nine, and she was subsequently
raised by her mother. Sotomayor graduated summa cum laude from
Princeton University in 1976 and received her J.D. from Yale Law
School in 1979, where she was an editor at the Yale Law Journal. She
worked as an assistant district attorney in New York for
four-and-a-half years before entering private practice in 1984. She
played an active role on the boards of directors for the Puerto Rican
Legal Defense and Education Fund, the State of New York Mortgage
Agency, and the
New York City
New York City Campaign Finance Board.
Sotomayor was nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Southern
District of New York by President
George H. W. Bush
George H. W. Bush in 1991;
confirmation followed in 1992. In 1997, she was nominated by President
Bill Clinton to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Her
nomination was slowed by the Republican majority in the United States
Senate, but she was eventually confirmed in 1998. On the Second
Circuit, Sotomayor heard appeals in more than 3,000 cases and wrote
about 380 opinions. Sotomayor has taught at the New York University
School of Law and Columbia Law School.
In May 2009, President
Barack Obama nominated Sotomayor to the Supreme
Court following the retirement of Justice David Souter. Her nomination
was confirmed by the Senate in August 2009 by a vote of 68–31. While
on the court, Sotomayor has supported the informal liberal bloc of
justices when they divide along the commonly perceived ideological
lines. During her tenure on the Supreme Court, Sotomayor has been
identified with concern for the rights of defendants, calls for reform
of the criminal justice system, and making impassioned dissents on
issues of race, gender and ethnic identity, including Schuette v. BAMN
and Utah v. Strieff.
1 Early life
2 College and law school
3 Early legal career
4 Federal district judge
4.1 Nomination and confirmation
4.3 Notable rulings
5 Court of Appeals judge
5.1 Nomination and confirmation
5.3 Notable rulings
6 Supreme Court justice
6.1 Nomination and confirmation
6.3 Notable rulings
7 Other activities
8 Awards and honors
10 See also
13 External links
Sotomayor and her parents
Sotomayor as a young girl
Sonia Maria Sotomayor was born in the
New York City
New York City borough of The
Bronx. Her father was Juan Sotomayor (born c. 1921), from the
area of Santurce, San Juan, Puerto Rico, and her mother was
Celina Báez (born 1927), an orphan from the neighborhood of
Santa Rosa in Lajas, a still mostly rural area on Puerto Rico's
The two left Puerto Rico separately, met, and married during World War
II after Celina served in the Women's Army Corps. Juan
Sotomayor had a third-grade education, did not speak English, and
worked as a tool and die worker; Celina Baez worked as a telephone
operator and then a practical nurse. Sonia's younger brother, Juan
Sotomayor (born c. 1957), later became a physician and university
professor in the Syracuse, New York, area.
Sotomayor was raised a Catholic and grew up in Puerto Rican
communities in the South Bronx and East Bronx; she self-identifies as
a "Nuyorican". The family lived in a South Bronx tenement
before moving in 1957 to the well-maintained, racially and ethnically
mixed, working-class Bronxdale Houses housing project in
Soundview (which has over time been thought as part of both the East
Bronx and South Bronx). Her relative proximity to Yankee
Stadium led to her becoming a lifelong fan of the New York
Yankees. The extended family got together frequently and
regularly visited Puerto Rico during summers.
Sonia grew up with an alcoholic father and a mother who was
emotionally distant; she felt closest to her grandmother, who she
later said gave her a source of "protection and purpose". Sonia
was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age seven, and began taking
daily insulin injections. Her father died of heart problems at age
42, when she was nine years old. After this, she became fluent
in English. Sotomayor has said that she was first inspired by the
Nancy Drew book character, and then after her diabetes
diagnosis led doctors to suggest a different career from detective,
she was inspired to go into a legal career and become a judge by
watching the Perry Mason television series. She reflected
in 1998: "I was going to college and I was going to become an
attorney, and I knew that when I was ten. Ten. That's no jest."
Celina Sotomayor put great stress on the value of education; she
Encyclopædia Britannica for her children, something
unusual in the housing projects. Despite the distance between the
two, which became greater after her father's death and which was not
fully reconciled until decades later, Sotomayor has credited her
mother with being her "life inspiration". For grammar school,
Sotomayor attended Blessed Sacrament School in Soundview, where
she was valedictorian and had a near-perfect attendance
record. Although underage, Sotomayor worked at a local retail
store and a hospital. Sotomayor passed the entrance tests for and
then attended Cardinal Spellman High School in the Bronx. At
Cardinal Spellman, Sotomayor was on the forensics team and was elected
to the student government. She graduated as valedictorian in
1972. Meanwhile, the Bronxdale Houses had fallen victim to
increasing heroin use, crime, and the emergence of the Black Spades
gang. In 1970, the family found refuge by moving to Co-op City in
the Northeast Bronx.
College and law school
Princeton University on a full scholarship, by
her own later description gaining admission in part due to her
achievements in high school and in part because affirmative action
made up for her standardized test scores not being fully comparable to
those of other applicants. She would later say that there are
cultural biases built into such testing and praise affirmative
action for fulfilling "its purpose: to create the conditions whereby
students from disadvantaged backgrounds could be brought to the
starting line of a race many were unaware was even being run."
She would describe her time at Princeton as a life-changing
experience. Initially, she felt like "a visitor landing in an
alien country" as her exposure had been limited to the Bronx and
Puerto Rico. Princeton had few women students and fewer Latinos
(about 20). She was too intimidated to ask questions during
her freshman year; her writing and vocabulary skills were weak,
and she lacked knowledge in the classics. She put in long hours in
the library and over summers, worked with a professor outside of
class, and gained skills, knowledge, and confidence. She
became a moderate student activist and co-chair of the Acción
Puertorriqueña organization, which served as a social and political
hub and sought more opportunities for Puerto Rican
students. She worked in the admissions office, traveling
to high schools and lobbying on behalf of her best prospects.
As an activist, Sotomayor focused on faculty hiring and curriculum,
since Princeton did not have a single full-time Latino professor nor
any class on Latin American studies. A meeting with university
William G. Bowen in her sophomore year saw no results,
leading to Sotomayor's saying in a
New York Times
New York Times story at the time
that "Princeton is following a policy of benign neutrality and is not
making substantive efforts to change." So, Acción Puertorriqueña
filed a formal letter of complaint in April 1974 with the Department
of Health, Education and Welfare, saying the school discriminated in
its hiring and admission practices. Sotomayor wrote
opinion pieces for the
Daily Princetonian with the same theme. The
university began to hire Latino faculty, and Sotomayor
established an ongoing dialogue with Bowen. Sotomayor also
successfully persuaded historian
Peter Winn to create a seminar on
Puerto Rican history and politics. Sotomayor joined the governance
board of Princeton's Third World Center and served on the university's
student–faculty Discipline Committee, which issued rulings on
student infractions. She also ran an after-school program for
local children and volunteered as an interpreter for Latino
patients at Trenton Psychiatric Hospital.
Sotomayor's 1976 Princeton yearbook photo
A history major, Sotomayor received almost all A's in her final two
years of college. Sotomayor wrote her senior thesis at Princeton
on Luis Muñoz Marín, the first democratically elected governor of
Puerto Rico, and on the territory's struggles for economic and
political self-determination. The 178-page work, "La Historia
Ciclica de Puerto Rico: The Impact of the Life of Luis Muñoz Marin on
the Political and Economic History of Puerto Rico, 1930–1975",
won honorable mention for the Latin American Studies Thesis Prize.
As a senior, Sotomayor won the Pyne Prize, the top award for
undergraduates, which reflected both strong grades and extracurricular
activities. In 1976, she was elected to Phi Beta
Kappa and awarded an A.B. from Princeton, graduating summa cum
laude. She was influenced by the then-fashionable critical race
theory, which would be reflected in her later speeches and
On August 14, 1976, just after graduating from Princeton, Sotomayor
married Kevin Edward Noonan, whom she had dated since high
school, in a small chapel at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New
York. She used the married name
Sonia Sotomayor de
Noonan. He became a biologist and a patent lawyer.
Yale Law School
Yale Law School in the fall of 1976, once more on a
scholarship. While she believes she again benefited from
affirmative action to compensate for somewhat lower standardized test
scores, a former dean of admissions at Yale has said that
given her record at Princeton, it probably had little effect. At
Yale she fit in well although she found there were again few
Latino students. She was known as a hard worker but she was not
considered among the star students in her class. Yale General
Counsel and professor
José A. Cabranes acted as an early mentor to
her to successfully transition and work within "the system". She
became an editor of the Yale Law Journal and was also managing
editor of the student-run Yale Studies in World Public Order
publication (later known as the Yale Journal of International
Law). Sotomayor published a law review note on the effect of
Puerto Rican statehood
Puerto Rican statehood on the island's mineral and ocean
rights. She was a semi-finalist in the Barristers Union mock
trial competition. She was co-chair of a group for Latin, Asian,
and Native American students, and her advocacy to hire more Hispanic
faculty was renewed.
Following her second year, she gained a job as a summer associate with
the prominent New York law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton &
Garrison. By her own later evaluation, her performance there was
lacking. She did not receive an offer for a full-time position, an
experience that she later described as a "kick in the teeth" and one
that would bother her for years. In her third year, she filed
a formal complaint against the established Washington, D.C., law firm
of Shaw, Pittman, Potts & Trowbridge for suggesting during a
recruiting dinner that she was at Yale only via affirmative
action. Sotomayor refused to be interviewed by the firm
further and filed her complaint with a faculty–student tribunal,
which ruled in her favor. Her action triggered a campus-wide
debate, and news of the firm's subsequent December 1978 apology
made the Washington Post.
In 1979, Sotomayor was awarded a J.D. from Yale Law School. She was
admitted to the New York Bar the following year.
Early legal career
On the recommendation of Cabranes, Sotomayor was hired out of law
school as an assistant district attorney under New York County
Robert Morgenthau starting in 1979. She said
at the time that she did so with conflicted emotions: "There was a
tremendous amount of pressure from my community, from the third world
community, at Yale. They could not understand why I was taking this
job. I'm not sure I've ever resolved that problem." It was a time
of crisis-level crime rates and drug problems in New York,
Morgenthau's staff was overburdened with cases, and like other rookie
prosecutors, Sotomayor was initially fearful of appearing before
judges in court. Working in the trial division, she handled
heavy caseloads as she prosecuted everything from shoplifting and
prostitution to robberies, assaults, and murders. She also
worked on cases involving police brutality. She was not afraid to
venture into tough neighborhoods or endure squalid conditions in order
to interview witnesses. In the courtroom, she was effective at
cross examination and at simplifying a case in ways to which a jury
could relate. In 1983 in her highest profile case she helped
convict the "Tarzan Murderer" (who acrobatically entered apartments,
robbed them, and shot residents for no reason). She felt
lower-level crimes were largely products of socioeconomic environment
and poverty, but she had a different attitude about serious felonies:
"No matter how liberal I am, I'm still outraged by crimes of violence.
Regardless of whether I can sympathize with the causes that lead these
individuals to do these crimes, the effects are outrageous."
Hispanic crime was of particular concern to her: "The
saddest crimes for me were the ones that my own people committed
against each other." In general, she showed a passion for bringing
law and order to the streets of New York, displaying special zeal in
pursuing child pornography cases, unusual for the time. She worked
15-hour days and gained a reputation for being driven and for her
preparedness and fairness. One of her job evaluations
labelled her a "potential superstar". Morgenthau later described
her as "smart, hard-working, [and having] a lot of common sense,"
and as a "fearless and effective prosecutor." She stayed a typical
length of time in the post and had a common reaction to the job:
"After a while, you forget there are decent, law-abiding people in
Sotomayor and Noonan divorced amicably in 1983; they did not have
children. She has said that the pressures of her working life were
a contributing factor, but not the major factor, in the
breakup. From 1983 to 1986, Sotomayor had an informal solo
practice, dubbed Sotomayor & Associates, located in her Brooklyn
apartment. She performed legal consulting work, often for friends
or family members.
In 1984, she entered private practice, joining the commercial
litigation practice group of Pavia & Harcourt in Manhattan as an
associate. One of 30 attorneys in the law firm, she
specialized in intellectual property litigation, international law,
and arbitration. She later said, "I wanted to complete
myself as an attorney." Although she had no civil litigation
experience, the firm recruited her heavily, and she learned quickly on
the job. She was eager to try cases and argue in court, rather
than be part of a larger law firm. Her clients were mostly
international corporations doing business in the United States;
much of her time was spent tracking down and suing counterfeiters of
Fendi goods. In some cases, Sotomayor went on-site with the
Chinatown to have illegitimate merchandise seized,
in the latter instance pursuing a fleeing culprit while riding on a
motorcycle. She said at the time that Pavia & Harcourt's
efforts were run "much like a drug operation", and the successful
rounding up of thousands of counterfeit accessories in 1986 was
celebrated by "
Fendi Crush", a destruction-by-garbage-truck event at
Tavern on the Green. At other times, she dealt with dry legal
issues such as grain export contract disputes. In a 1986
Good Morning America
Good Morning America that profiled women ten years after
college graduation, she said that the bulk of law work was drudgery,
and that while she was content with her life, she had expected greater
things of herself coming out of college. In 1988 she became a
partner at the firm; she was paid well but not
extravagantly. She left in 1992 when she became a judge.
In addition to her law firm work, Sotomayor found visible public
service roles. She was not connected to the party bosses that
typically picked people for such jobs in New York, and indeed she was
registered as an independent. Instead, District Attorney
Morgenthau, an influential figure, served as her patron. In
Governor of New York
Governor of New York
Mario Cuomo appointed Sotomayor to the
board of the State of New York Mortgage Agency, which she served on
until 1992. As part of one of the largest urban rebuilding efforts
in American history, the agency helped low-income people get home
mortgages and to provide insurance coverage for housing and AIDS
hospices. Despite being the youngest member of a board composed of
strong personalities, she involved herself in the details of the
operation and was effective. She was vocal in supporting the
right to affordable housing, directing more funds to lower-income home
owners, and in her skepticism about the effects of gentrification,
although in the end she voted in favor of most of the
Sotomayor was appointed by Mayor
Ed Koch in 1988 as one of the
founding members of the
New York City
New York City Campaign Finance Board, where
she served for four years. There she took a vigorous role
in the board's implementation of a voluntary scheme wherein local
candidates received public matching funds in exchange for limits on
contributions and spending and agreeing to greater financial
disclosure. Sotomayor showed no patience with candidates who
failed to follow regulations and was more of a stickler for making
campaigns follow those regulations than some of the other board
members. She joined in rulings that fined, audited, or
reprimanded the mayoral campaigns of Koch, David Dinkins, and Rudy
Based upon another recommendation from Cabranes, Sotomayor was a
member of the board of directors of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and
Education Fund from 1980 to 1992. There she was a top policy
maker who worked actively with the organization's lawyers on issues
New York City
New York City hiring practices, police brutality, the death
penalty, and voting rights. The group achieved its most visible
triumph when it successfully blocked a city primary election on the
New York City
New York City Council boundaries diminished the power of
During 1985 and 1986, Sotomayor served on the board of the Maternity
Center Association, a Manhattan-based non-profit group which focused
on improving the quality of maternity care.
Federal district judge
Nomination and confirmation
Sotomayor had wanted to become a judge since she was in elementary
school, and in 1991 she was recommended for a spot by Democratic New
York senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Moynihan had an unusual
bipartisan arrangement with his fellow New York senator, Republican Al
D'Amato, whereby he would get to choose roughly one out of every four
New York district court seats even though a Republican was in the
White House. Moynihan also wanted to fulfill a public
promise he had made to get a
Hispanic judge appointed for New
York. When Moynihan's staff recommended her to him, they said
"Have we got a judge for you!" Moynihan identified with her
socio-economic and academic background and became convinced she would
become the first
Hispanic Supreme Court justice. D'Amato
became an enthusiastic backer of Sotomayor, who was seen as
politically centrist at the time. Of the impending drop in
salary from private practice, Sotomayor said: "I've never wanted to
get adjusted to my income because I knew I wanted to go back to public
service. And in comparison to what my mother earns and how I was
raised, it's not modest at all."
Sotomayor was thus nominated on November 27, 1991, by President George
H. W. Bush to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Southern
District of New York vacated by John M. Walker Jr. Senate Judiciary
Committee hearings, led by a friendly Democratic majority, went
smoothly for her in June 1992, with her pro bono activities winning
praise from Senator
Ted Kennedy and her getting unanimous approval
from the committee. Then a Republican senator blocked her
nomination and that of three others for a while in retaliation for an
unrelated block Democrats had put on another nominee. D'Amato
objected strongly; some weeks later, the block was dropped, and
Sotomayor was confirmed by unanimous consent of the full
United States Senate
United States Senate on August 11, 1992, and received her commission
the next day.
Sotomayor became the youngest judge in the Southern District and
Hispanic federal judge in New York State. She became the
first Puerto Rican woman to serve as a judge in a U.S. federal
court. She was one of seven women among the district's 58
judges. She moved from Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, back to the Bronx
in order to live within her district.
Sotomayor generally kept a low public profile as a district court
judge. She showed a willingness to take anti-government positions
in a number of cases, and during her first year in the seat, she
received high ratings from liberal public-interest groups. Other
sources and organizations regarded her as a centrist during this
period. In criminal cases, she gained a reputation for tough
sentencing and was not viewed as a pro-defense judge. A Syracuse
University study found that in such cases, Sotomayor generally handed
out longer sentences than her colleagues, especially when white-collar
crime was involved. Fellow district judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum
was an influence on Sotomayor in adopting a narrow, "just the facts"
approach to judicial decision-making.
As a trial judge, she garnered a reputation for being well-prepared in
advance of a case and moving cases along a tight schedule. Lawyers
before her court viewed her as plain-spoken, intelligent, demanding,
and sometimes somewhat unforgiving; one said, "She does not have much
patience for people trying to snow her. You can't do it."
On March 30, 1995, in Silverman v.
Major League Baseball
Major League Baseball Player
Relations Committee, Inc., Sotomayor issued a preliminary
injunction against Major League Baseball, preventing it from
unilaterally implementing a new collective bargaining agreement and
using replacement players. Her ruling ended the 1994 baseball strike
after 232 days, the day before the new season was scheduled to begin.
The Second Circuit upheld Sotomayor's decision and denied the owners'
request to stay the ruling. The decision raised her
profile, won her the plaudits of baseball fans, and had a
lasting effect on the game. In the preparatory phase of the case,
Sotomayor informed the lawyers of both sides that, "I hope none of you
assumed ... that my lack of knowledge of any of the intimate details
of your dispute meant I was not a baseball fan. You can't grow up in
the South Bronx without knowing about baseball."
In Dow Jones v. Department of Justice (1995), Sotomayor sided
Wall Street Journal
Wall Street Journal in its efforts to obtain and publish a
photocopy of the last note left by former Deputy White House Counsel
Vince Foster. Sotomayor ruled that the public had "a substantial
interest" in viewing the note and enjoined the U.S. Justice
Department from blocking its release.
New York Times
New York Times Co. v. Tasini (1997), freelance journalists sued the
New York Times
New York Times Company for copyright infringement for the New York
Times' inclusion in an electronic archival database (LexisNexis) of
the work of freelancers it had published. Sotomayor ruled that the
publisher had the right to license the freelancers' work. This
decision was reversed on appeal, and the Supreme Court upheld the
reversal; two dissenters (
John Paul Stevens
John Paul Stevens and Stephen Breyer) took
Castle Rock Entertainment, Inc. v. Carol Publishing Group
Castle Rock Entertainment, Inc. v. Carol Publishing Group (also in
1997), Sotomayor ruled that a book of trivia from the television
Seinfeld infringed on the copyright of the show's producer and
did not constitute legal fair use. The United States Court of Appeals
for the Second Circuit upheld Sotomayor's ruling.
Court of Appeals judge
Nomination and confirmation
Sonia Sotomayor with her godson at the United States Court of
Appeals signing ceremony in 1998
On June 25, 1997, Sotomayor was nominated by President
Bill Clinton to
a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which was
vacated by J. Daniel Mahoney. Her nomination was initially expected
to have smooth sailing, with the American Bar Association
Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary
Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary giving her a "well
qualified" professional assessment. However, as The New York
Times described, "[it became] embroiled in the sometimes tortured
judicial politics of the Senate." Some in the Republican majority
believed Clinton was eager to name the first
Hispanic Supreme Court
justice and that an easy confirmation to the appeals court would put
Sotomayor in a better position for a possible Supreme Court nomination
(despite there being no vacancy at the time nor any indication the
Clinton administration was considering nominating her or any
Hispanic). Therefore, the Republican majority decided to slow her
confirmation. Radio commentator
Rush Limbaugh weighed in
that Sotomayor was an ultraliberal who was on a "rocket ship" to the
During her September 1997 hearing before the Senate Judiciary
Committee, Sotomayor parried strong questioning from some Republican
members about mandatory sentencing, gay rights, and her level of
respect for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. After a long
wait, she was approved by the committee in March 1998, with only two
dissensions. However, in June 1998, the influential Wall
Street Journal editorial page opined that the Clinton administration
intended to "get her on to the Second Circuit, then elevate her to the
Supreme Court as soon as an opening occurs"; the editorial criticized
two of her district court rulings and urged further delay of her
confirmation. The Republican block continued.
Ranking Democratic committee member
Patrick Leahy objected to
Republican use of a secret hold to slow down the Sotomayor nomination,
and Leahy attributed that anonymous tactic to GOP reticence about
publicly opposing a female
Hispanic nominee. The prior
month, Leahy had triggered a procedural delay in the confirmation of
fellow Second Circuit nominee Chester J. Straub—who, although
advanced by Clinton and supported by Senator Moynihan, was considered
much more acceptable by Republicans—in an unsuccessful effort to
force earlier consideration of the Sotomayor confirmation.
During 1998, several
Hispanic organizations organized a petition drive
in New York State, generating hundreds of signatures from New Yorkers
to try to convince New York Republican senator
Al D'Amato to push the
Senate leadership to bring Sotomayor's nomination to a vote.
D'Amato, a backer of Sotomayor to begin with and additionally
concerned about being up for re-election that year, helped move
Republican leadership. Her nomination had been pending for over a
year when Majority Leader
Trent Lott scheduled the vote. With
complete Democratic support, and support from 25 Republican senators
including Judiciary chair Orrin Hatch, Sotomayor was confirmed on
October 2, 1998, by a 67–29 vote. She received her commission
on October 7. The confirmation experience left Sotomayor somewhat
angry; she said shortly afterwards that during the hearings,
Republicans had assumed her political beliefs based on her being a
Latina: "That series of questions, I think, were symbolic of a set of
expectations that some people had [that] I must be liberal. It is
stereotyping, and stereotyping is perhaps the most insidious of all
problems in our society today."
Over her ten years on the Second Circuit, Sotomayor heard appeals in
more than 3,000 cases and wrote about 380 opinions where she was in
the majority. The Supreme Court reviewed five of those, reversing
three and affirming two—not high numbers for an appellate judge
of that many years and a typical percentage of reversals.
Sotomayor's circuit court rulings led to her being considered a
political centrist by the ABA Journal and other sources and
organizations. Several lawyers, legal
experts, and news organizations identified her as someone with liberal
inclinations. In any case, the Second Circuit's
caseload typically skewed more toward business and securities law
rather than hot-button social or constitutional issues. Sotomayor
tended to write narrow, practiced rulings that relied on close
application of the law to the facts of a case rather than import
general philosophical viewpoints. A Congressional Research
Service analysis found that Sotomayor's rulings defied easy
ideological categorization, but did show an adherence to precedent and
an avoidance of overstepping the circuit court's judicial role.
Unusually, Sotomayor read through all the supporting documents of
cases under review; her lengthy rulings explored every aspect of a
case and tended to feature leaden, ungainly prose. Some legal
experts have said that Sotomayor's attention to detail and
re-examination of the facts of a case came close to overstepping the
traditional role of appellate judges.
Across some 150 cases involving business and civil law, Sotomayor's
rulings were generally unpredictable and not consistently pro-business
or anti-business. Sotomayor's influence in the federal judiciary,
as measured by the number of citations of her rulings by other judges
and in law review articles, increased significantly during the length
of her appellate judgeship and was greater than that of some other
prominent federal appeals court judges. Two academic studies
showed that the percentage of Sotomayor's decisions that overrode
policy decisions by elected branches was the same as or lower than
that of other circuit judges.
Sotomayor was a member of the Second Circuit Task Force on Gender,
Racial and Ethnic Fairness in the Courts. In October 2001, she
presented the annual Judge Mario G. Olmos Memorial Lecture at UC
Berkeley School of Law; titled "A
Latina Judge's Voice"; it was
published in the Berkeley La Raza Law Journal the following
spring. In the speech, she discussed the characteristics of
Latina upbringing and culture and the history of minorities and
women ascending to the federal bench. She said the low number of
minority women on the federal bench at that time was "shocking".
She then discussed at length how her own experiences as a
affect her decisions as a judge. In any case, her background in
activism did not necessarily influence her rulings: in a study of 50
racial discrimination cases brought before her panel, 45 were
rejected, with Sotomayor never filing a dissent. An expanded study
showed that Sotomayor decided 97 cases involving a claim of
discrimination and rejected those claims nearly 90 percent of the
time. Another examination of Second Circuit split decisions on
cases that dealt with race and discrimination showed no clear
ideological pattern in Sotomayor's opinions.
In the Court of Appeals seat, Sotomayor gained a reputation for
vigorous and blunt behavior toward lawyers appealing before her,
sometimes to the point of brusque and curt treatment or testy
interruptions. She was known for extensive preparation for
oral arguments and for running a "hot bench", where judges ask lawyers
plenty of questions. Unprepared lawyers suffered the
consequences, but the vigorous questioning was an aid to lawyers
seeking to tailor their arguments to the judge's concerns. The
2009 Almanac of the Federal Judiciary, which collected anonymous
evaluations of judges by lawyers who appear before them, contained a
wide range of reactions to Sotomayor. Comments also diverged among
lawyers willing to be named. Attorney Sheema Chaudhry said, "She's
brilliant and she's qualified, but I just feel that she can be very,
how do you say, temperamental." Defense lawyer Gerald B. Lefcourt
said, "She used her questioning to make a point, as opposed to really
looking for an answer to a question she did not understand." In
contrast, Second Circuit Judge
Richard C. Wesley said that his
interactions with Sotomayor had been "totally antithetical to this
perception that has gotten some traction that she is somehow
confrontational." Second Circuit Judge and former teacher Guido
Calabresi said his tracking showed that Sotomayor's questioning
patterns were no different from those of other members of the court
and added, "Some lawyers just don’t like to be questioned by a
woman. [The criticism] was sexist, plain and simple." Sotomayor's
law clerks regarded her as a valuable and strong mentor, and she said
that she viewed them like family.
In 2005, Senate Democrats suggested Sotomayor, among others, to
George W. Bush
George W. Bush as an acceptable nominee to fill the seat of
retiring Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.
In the 2002 decision Center for Reproductive Law and Policy v.
Bush, Sotomayor upheld the Bush administration's implementation
of the Mexico City Policy, which states that "the United States will
no longer contribute to separate nongovernmental organizations which
perform or actively promote abortion as a method of family planning in
other nations." Sotomayor held that the policy did not constitute
a violation of equal protection, as "the government is free to favor
the anti-abortion position over the pro-choice position, and can do so
with public funds."
First Amendment rights
Pappas v. Giuliani
Pappas v. Giuliani (2002), Sotomayor dissented from her
colleagues' ruling that the
New York Police Department
New York Police Department could terminate
from his desk job an employee who sent racist materials through the
mail. Sotomayor argued that the First Amendment protected speech by
the employee "away from the office, on [his] own time", even if that
speech was "offensive, hateful, and insulting", and that therefore the
employee's First Amendment claim should have gone to trial rather than
being dismissed on summary judgment.
In 2005, Sotomayor wrote the opinion for United States v.
Quattrone. Frank Quattrone had been on trial on charges of
obstructing investigations related to technology IPOs. Some members of
the media had wanted to publish the names of the jurors deciding
Quattrone's case, and a district court had issued an order to forbid
the publication of the juror's names. In United States v. Quattrone,
Sotomayor wrote the opinion for the Second Circuit panel striking down
this order on First Amendment grounds, stating that the media should
be free to publish the names of the jurors. The first trial ended in a
deadlocked jury and a mistrial, and the district court ordered the
media not to publish the names of jurors, even though those names had
been disclosed in open court. Sotomayor held that although it was
important to protect the fairness of the retrial, the district court's
order was an unconstitutional prior restraint on free speech and
violated the right of the press "to report freely on events that
transpire in an open courtroom".
In 2008, Sotomayor was on a three-judge panel in Doninger v.
Niehoff that unanimously affirmed, in an opinion written by
Second Circuit Judge Debra Livingston, the district court's judgment
Lewis S. Mills High School
Lewis S. Mills High School did not violate the First Amendment
rights of a student when it barred her from running for student
government after she called the superintendent and other school
officials "douchebags" in a blog post written while off-campus that
encouraged students to call an administrator and "piss her off
more". Judge Livingston held that the district judge did not
abuse her discretion in holding that the student's speech "foreseeably
create[d] a risk of substantial disruption within the school
environment", which is the precedent in the Second Circuit for
when schools may regulate off-campus speech. Although Sotomayor
did not write this opinion, she has been criticized by some who
disagree with it.
Second Amendment rights
Sotomayor was part of the three-judge Second Circuit panel that
affirmed the district court's ruling in Maloney v. Cuomo (2009).
Maloney was arrested for possession of nunchucks, which are illegal in
New York; Maloney argued that this law violated his Second Amendment
right to bear arms. The Second Circuit's per curiam opinion noted that
the Supreme Court has not, so far, ever held that the Second Amendment
is binding against state governments. On the contrary, in Presser v.
Illinois, a Supreme Court case from 1886, the Supreme Court held that
the Second Amendment "is a limitation only upon the power of Congress
and the national government, and not upon that of the state".
With respect to the
Presser v. Illinois
Presser v. Illinois precedent, the panel stated
that only the Supreme Court has "the prerogative of overruling its own
decisions," and the recent Supreme Court case of District of
Columbia v. Heller (which struck down the district's gun ban as
unconstitutional) did "not invalidate this longstanding
principle". The panel upheld the lower court's decision
dismissing Maloney's challenge to New York's law against possession of
nunchucks. On June 2, 2009, a Seventh Circuit panel, including
the prominent and heavily cited judges
Richard Posner and Frank
Easterbrook, unanimously agreed with Maloney v. Cuomo, citing the case
in their decision turning back a challenge to Chicago's gun laws and
noting the Supreme Court precedents remain in force until altered by
the Supreme Court itself.
Fourth Amendment rights
In N.G. & S.G. ex rel. S.C. v. Connecticut (2004), Sotomayor
dissented from her colleagues’ decision to uphold a series of strip
searches of "troubled adolescent girls" in juvenile detention centers.
While Sotomayor agreed that some of the strip searches at issue in the
case were lawful, she would have held that due to "the severely
intrusive nature of strip searches", they should not be allowed
"in the absence of individualized suspicion, of adolescents who have
never been charged with a crime". She argued that an
"individualized suspicion" rule was more consistent with Second
Circuit precedent than the majority's rule.
In Leventhal v. Knapek (2001), Sotomayor rejected a Fourth
Amendment challenge by a
U.S. Department of Transportation
U.S. Department of Transportation employee
whose employer searched his office computer. She held that, "Even
though [the employee] had some expectation of privacy in the contents
of his office computer, the investigatory searches by the DOT did not
violate his Fourth Amendment rights" because here "there were
reasonable grounds to believe" that the search would reveal evidence
of "work-related misconduct".
Alcohol in commerce
In 2004, Sotomayor was part of the judge panel that ruled in
Swedenburg v. Kelly that New York's law prohibiting out-of-state
wineries from shipping directly to consumers in New York was
constitutional even though in-state wineries were allowed to. The
case, which invoked the 21st Amendment, was appealed and attached to
another case. The case reached the Supreme Court later on as
Swedenburg v. Kelly and was overruled in a 5–4 decision that found
the law was discriminatory and unconstitutional.
Sotomayor was involved in the high-profile case Ricci v. DeStefano
that initially upheld the right of the City of New Haven to throw out
its test for firefighters and start over with a new test, because the
City believed the test had a "disparate impact" on minority
firefighters. (No black firefighters qualified for promotion under the
test, whereas some had qualified under tests used in previous years.)
The City was concerned that minority firefighters might sue under
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The City chose not to
certify the test results and a lower court had previously upheld the
City's right to do this. Several white firefighters and one Hispanic
firefighter who had passed the test, including the lead plaintiff who
has dyslexia and had put much extra effort into studying, sued the
City of New Haven, claiming that their rights were violated. A Second
Circuit panel that included Sotomayor first issued a brief, unsigned
summary order (not written by Sotomayor) affirming the lower court's
ruling. Sotomayor's former mentor José A. Cabranes, by now a
fellow judge on the court, objected to this handling and requested
that the court hear it en banc. Sotomayor voted with a 7–6
majority not to rehear it and a slightly expanded ruling was issued,
but a strong dissent by Cabranes led to the case reaching the Supreme
Court in 2009. There it was overruled in a 5–4 decision that
found the white firefighters had been victims of racial discrimination
when they were denied promotion.
Clarett v. National Football League (2004), Sotomayor upheld
the National Football League's eligibility rules requiring players to
wait three full seasons after high school graduation before entering
the NFL draft.
Maurice Clarett challenged these rules, which were part
of the collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and its
players, on antitrust grounds. Sotomayor held that Clarett's claim
would upset the established "federal labor law favoring and governing
the collective bargaining process".
In Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc. v. Dabit
(2005), Sotomayor wrote a unanimous opinion that the Securities
Litigation Uniform Standards Act of 1998 did not preempt class action
claims in state courts by stockbrokers alleging misleading inducement
to buy or sell stocks. The Supreme Court handed down an 8–0
decision stating that the Act did preempt such claims, thereby
overruling Sotomayor's decision.
Specht v. Netscape Communications Corp.
Specht v. Netscape Communications Corp. (2001), she ruled that
the license agreement of Netscape's Smart Download software did not
constitute a binding contract because the system didn't give
"sufficient notice" to the user.
Correctional Services Corp. v. Malesko
Correctional Services Corp. v. Malesko (2000), Sotomayor,
writing for the court, supported the right of an individual to sue a
private corporation working on behalf of the federal government for
alleged violations of that individual's constitutional rights.
Reversing a lower court decision, Sotomayor found that an existing
Supreme Court doctrine, known as "Bivens"—which allows suits against
individuals working for the federal government for constitutional
rights violations—could be applied to the case of a former prisoner
seeking to sue the private company operating the federal halfway house
facility in which he resided. The Supreme Court reversed Sotomayor's
ruling in a 5–4 decision, saying that the Bivens doctrine could not
be expanded to cover private entities working on behalf of the federal
government. Justices Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer dissented,
siding with Sotomayor's original ruling.
In Gant v. Wallingford Board of Education (1999), the parents of
a black student alleged that he had been harassed due to his race and
had been discriminated against when he was transferred from a first
grade class to a kindergarten class without parental consent, while
similarly situated white students were treated differently. Sotomayor
agreed with the dismissal of the harassment claims due to lack of
evidence, but would have allowed the discrimination claim to go
forward. She wrote in dissent that the grade transfer was "contrary to
the school's established policies" as well as its treatment of white
students, which "supports the inference that race discrimination
played a role".
In Krimstock v. Kelly (2002), Sotomayor wrote an opinion halting
New York City's practice of seizing the motor vehicles of drivers
accused of driving while intoxicated and some other crimes and holding
those vehicles for "months or even years" during criminal proceedings.
Noting the importance of cars to many individuals' livelihoods or
daily activities, she held that it violated individuals' due process
rights to hold the vehicles without permitting the owners to challenge
the City's continued possession of their property.
In Brody v. Village of Port Chester (2003 and 2005), a takings
case, Sotomayor first ruled in 2003 for a unanimous panel that a
property owner in
Port Chester, New York
Port Chester, New York was permitted to challenge
the state's Eminent Domain Procedure Law. A district court
subsequently rejected the plaintiff's claims and upon appeal the case
found itself again with the Second Circuit. In 2005, Sotomayor ruled
with a panel majority that the property owner's due process rights had
been violated by lack of adequate notice to him of his right to
challenge a village order that his land should be used for a
redevelopment project. However, the panel supported the village's
taking of the property for public use.
In Didden v. Village of Port Chester (2006), an unrelated case
brought about by the same town's actions, Sotomayor joined a unanimous
panel's summary order to uphold a trial court's dismissal – due to a
statute of limitations lapse – of a property owner's objection to
his land being condemned for a redevelopment project. The ruling
further said that even without the lapse, the owner's petition would
be denied due to application of the Supreme Court's recent Kelo v.
City of New London ruling. The Second Circuit's reasoning drew
criticism from libertarian commentators.
Supreme Court justice
Nomination and confirmation
Sonia Sotomayor Supreme Court nomination
Barack Obama meets with Judge
Sonia Sotomayor and Vice
Joe Biden prior to an announcement in the East Room, May 26,
Since President Barack Obama's election there was speculation that
Sotomayor could be a leading candidate for a Supreme Court
seat. New York Senators
Charles Schumer and Kirsten
Gillibrand wrote a joint letter to Obama urging him to appoint
Sotomayor, or alternatively Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, to the
Supreme Court if a vacancy should arise during his term. The
White House first contacted Sotomayor on April 27, 2009, about the
possibility of her nomination. On April 30, 2009, Justice David
Souter's retirement plans leaked to the media, and Sotomayor received
early attention as a possible nominee for Souter's seat to be vacated
in June 2009. On May 25, Obama informed Sotomayor of his choice;
she later said, "I had my [hand] over my chest, trying to calm my
beating heart, literally." On May 26, 2009, Obama nominated
her. She became only the second jurist to be nominated to three
different judicial positions by three different presidents. The
selection appeared to closely match Obama's presidential campaign
promise that he would nominate judges who had "the heart, the empathy,
to recognize what it's like to be a teenage mom. The empathy to
understand what it's like to be poor, or African-American, or gay, or
disabled, or old."
Sotomayor's nomination won praise from Democrats and liberals, and
Democrats appeared to have sufficient votes to confirm her. The
strongest criticism of her nomination came from conservatives and some
Republican senators regarding a line she had used in similar forms in
a number of her speeches, particularly in a 2001 Berkeley Law
lecture: "I would hope that a wise
Latina woman with the
richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better
conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."
Sotomayor had made similar remarks in other speeches between 1994 and
2003, including one she submitted as part of her confirmation
questionnaire for the Court of Appeals in 1998, but they had attracted
little attention at the time. The remark now became widely
known. The rhetoric quickly became inflamed, with radio
Rush Limbaugh and former Republican Speaker of the House
Newt Gingrich calling Sotomayor a "racist"
(although the latter later backtracked from that claim), while
John Cornyn and other Republican senators denounced such attacks but
said that Sotomayor's approach was troubling. Backers of
Sotomayor offered a variety of explanations in defense of the
White House Press Secretary
White House Press Secretary
Robert Gibbs stated that
Sotomayor's word choice in 2001 had been "poor". Sotomayor
subsequently clarified her remark through Senate Judiciary Committee
chair Patrick Leahy, saying that while life experience shapes who one
is, "ultimately and completely" a judge follows the law regardless of
personal background. Of her cases, the Second Circuit rulings in
Ricci v. DeStefano
Ricci v. DeStefano received the most attention during the early
nomination discussion, motivated by the Republican desire to
focus on the reverse racial discrimination aspect of the case. In
the midst of her confirmation process the Supreme Court overturned
that ruling on June 29. A third line of Republican attack against
Sotomayor was based on her ruling in Maloney v. Cuomo and was
motivated by gun ownership advocates concerned about her
interpretation of Second Amendment rights. Some of the fervor
with which conservatives and Republicans viewed the Sotomayor
nomination was due to their grievances over the history of federal
judicial nomination battles going back to the 1987 Robert Bork Supreme
Gallup poll released a week after the nomination showed
54 percent of Americans in favor of Sotomayor's confirmation
compared with 28 percent in opposition. A June 12 Fox News
poll showed 58 percent of the public disagreeing with her "wise
Latina" remark but 67 percent saying the remark should not disqualify
her from serving on the Supreme Court. The American Bar
Association gave her a unanimous "well qualified" assessment, its
highest mark for professional qualification. Following the Ricci
Rasmussen Reports and CNN/
Opinion Research polls showed
that the public was now sharply divided, largely along partisan and
ideological lines, as to whether Sotomayor should be
Sotomayor before the
Senate Judiciary Committee
Senate Judiciary Committee for the first day of
hearings on July 13, 2009
Sotomayor's confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary
Committee began on July 13, 2009, during which she backed away from
her "wise Latina" remark, declaring it "a rhetorical flourish that
fell flat" and stating that "I do not believe that any ethnic, racial
or gender group has an advantage in sound judgment." When
Republican senators confronted her regarding other remarks from her
past speeches, she pointed to her judicial record and said she had
never let her own life experiences or opinions influence her
decisions. Republican senators said that while her rulings to
this point might be largely traditional, they feared her Supreme Court
rulings – where there is more latitude with respect to precedent and
interpretation – might be more reflective of her speeches.
Sotomayor defended her position in Ricci as following applicable
precedent. When asked whom she admired, she pointed to Justice
Benjamin N. Cardozo. In general, Sotomayor followed the hearings
formula of recent past nominees by avoiding stating personal
positions, declining to take positions on controversial issues likely
to come before the Court, agreeing with senators from both parties,
and repeatedly affirming that as a justice she would just apply the
law. On July 28, 2009, the
Senate Judiciary Committee
Senate Judiciary Committee approved
Sotomayor's nomination; the 13–6 vote was almost entirely along
party lines, with no Democrats opposing her and only one Republican
supporting her. On August 6, 2009, Sotomayor was confirmed by the
full Senate by a vote of 68–31. The vote was largely along
party lines, with no Democrats opposing her and nine Republicans
President Obama commissioned Sotomayor on the day of her
confirmation; Sotomayor was sworn in on August 8, 2009, by Chief
Justice John Roberts. Sotomayor is the first
Hispanic to serve on
the Supreme Court. Some attention has been given
Benjamin Cardozo – a
Sephardic Jew believed to be of
distant Portuguese descent – as the first
Hispanic on the court when
appointed in 1932, but his roots were uncertain, the term "Hispanic"
was not in use as an ethnic identifier at the time, and the Portuguese
are generally excluded from its meaning. Sotomayor is
among four women to have historically served on the Court, together
with Sandra Day O'Connor,
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan, the
last of whom won confirmation a year after Sotomayor by a comparable
63–37 vote. Sotomayor's appointment gave the Court a record six
Roman Catholic justices serving at the same time. Sotomayor became
one of the three youngest of the justices sitting on the Court, along
John Roberts and Elena Kagan.
The four women who have served on the Supreme Court: Sandra Day
O'Connor, Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Elena Kagan
Sotomayor cast her first vote as an associate Supreme Court justice on
August 17, 2009, in a stay of execution case. She was given a
warm welcome onto the Court and was formally invested in a
September 8 ceremony. Sotomayor's inaugural case in which she
heard arguments was on September 9 during a special session, Citizens
United v. Federal Election Commission. It involved the controversial
aspect of the First Amendment and the rights of corporations in
campaign finance; Sotomayor dissented. In her vigorous
examination of Floyd Abrams, representing the First Amendment issues
in the case, Sotomayor challenged him, questioning 19th century
rulings of the Court and saying, "What you are suggesting is that the
courts, who created corporations as persons, gave birth to
corporations as persons, and there could be an argument made that that
was the Court's error to start with ... [imbuing] a creature of State
law with human characteristics."
Sotomayor's first major written opinion was a dissent in the Berghuis
v. Thompkins case dealing with Miranda rights. As her first
year neared completion, Sotomayor said she felt swamped by the
intensity and heavy workload of the job. During the oral
arguments for National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius,
Sotomayor showed her increasing familiarity with the Court and its
protocols by directing the opening questions of the arguments to
Donald Verrilli, the Solicitor General who was representing the
In succeeding Justice Souter, Sotomayor had done little to change the
philosophical and ideological balance of the Court.
While many cases are decided unanimously or with different voting
coalitions, Sotomayor has continued to be a reliable member of the
liberal bloc of the court when the justices divide along the commonly
perceived ideological lines. Specifically, her voting pattern and
judicial philosophy has been in close agreement with that of Justices
Breyer, Ginsburg and Kagan. During her first couple of years
there, Sotomayor voted with Ginsburg and Breyer 90 percent of the
time, one of the highest agreement rates on the Court. In a
2015 article titled "Ranking the Most Liberal Modern Supreme Court
Justices", Alex Greer identified Sotomayor as representing a more
liberal voting pattern than both
Elena Kagan and Ruth Bader
Ginsburg. Greer placed Sotomayor as having the most liberal
voting history of all the current sitting Justices, and slightly less
liberal than her predecessors
Thurgood Marshall and John Marshall
Harlan II on the Court.
Justices Roberts, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito (and former Justice
Scalia) have comprised the identifiable conservative wing of the
Court. Although, five of the justices on the Supreme Court
self-identify as having Roman Catholic affiliation, Sotomayor's voting
history identifies her singly among them with the liberal bloc of the
Court. However, there is a wide divergence among Catholics in general
in their approaches to the law. Due to her upbringing and her past
jobs and positions, Sotomayor has brought one of the more diverse set
of life experiences to the court.
There have been some deviations from the ideological pattern. In a
2013 book on the Roberts Court, author Marcia Coyle assessed
Sotomayor's position on the
Confrontation Clause of the Sixth
Amendment as a strong guarantee of the right of a defendant to
confront his or her accusers. Sotomayor's judicial philosophy on
the issue is seen as being in parity with
Elena Kagan and,
unexpectedly for Sotomayor, also in at least partial agreement with
the originalist reading of
Antonin Scalia when applied to the clause.
On January 20 and 21, 2013, Sotomayor administered the oath to Vice
Joe Biden for the inauguration of his second term. Sotomayor
became the first
Hispanic and fourth woman to administer the oath to a
president or vice president.
By the end of her fifth year on the court, Sotomayor had become
especially visible in oral arguments and in passionate dissents from
various majority rulings, especially those involving issues of race,
gender and ethnic identity. Sotomayor has shown her individuality
on the Court in a number of decisions. In her reading of the
constitutionality of the Obama health care law favoring the poor and
disabled, she sided with Ginsburg against fellow liberals Breyer and
Kagan. In dealing with the Chief Justice, Sotomayor had no
difficulty in responding to his statement that "the way to stop
discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discrimination on the
basis of race," by stating, "I don't borrow Chief Justice Roberts's
description of what color-blindness is... Our society is too complex
to use that kind of analysis." In the manufacturer liability case
of Williamson v. Mazda, which the court decided unanimously, she wrote
a separate concurring opinion. Sotomayor's rapport with her
clerks is seen as more formalistic than some of the other justices as
she requires detailed and rigorous evaluations of cases she is
considering with a table of contents attached. When compared to
Kagan directly, one of their colleagues stated, "Neither of them is a
shrinking violet". Coyle, in her 2013 book on the Roberts Court stated
that: "Both women are more vocal during arguments than the justices
whom they succeeded, and they have energized the moderate-liberal side
of the bench."
During her tenure on the court, Sotomayor has also become recognizable
as being among the court's strongest voices in supporting the rights
of the accused. She has been identified by
Laurence Tribe as the
foremost voice on the court calling for reforming criminal justice
adjudication – in particular as it relates misconduct by police and
prosecutors, abuses in prisons, concerns about how the death penalty
is used, and the potential for loss of privacy – and Tribe has
compared her will to reform in general to that of past Chief Justice
J.D.B. v. North Carolina
J.D.B. v. North Carolina was a 2011 case in which the Supreme Court of
the United States held that age is relevant when determining police
custody for Miranda purposes. Sotomayor was assigned to write the
majority opinion in the case. J.D.B. was a 13-year-old student
enrolled in special education classes whom police had suspected of
committing two robberies. A police investigator visited J.D.B. at
school, where he was interrogated by the investigator, a uniformed
police officer, and school officials. J.D.B. subsequently confessed to
his crimes and was convicted. J.D.B. was not given a Miranda warning
during the interrogation, nor an opportunity to contact his legal
guardian. During the trial, attempts to suppress the statements given
by J.D.B. because he was not given a
Miranda warning were denied on
the grounds that J.D.B. was not in police custody. The case was
appealed and the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. Sotomayor's
opinion for the Court held that a child's age properly informs the
Miranda custody analysis. Her opinion underscored the dangers of not
applying age to the custody analysis, writing: "to hold... that a
child's age is never relevant to whether a suspect has been taken into
custody— and thus to ignore the very real differences between
children and adults— would be to deny children the full scope of the
procedural safeguards that Miranda guarantees to adults". The
opinion cited Stansbury v. California where the Court held that a
child's age "would have affected how a reasonable person" in the
suspect's position "would perceive his or her freedom to leave".
Yarborough v. Alvarado
Yarborough v. Alvarado was also cited, where the Court wrote that a
child's age "generates commonsense conclusions about behavior and
perception". Finally, Sotomayor's opinion pointed out that the law
reflects the idea that a child's judgment is not the same as an
adult's, in the form of legal disqualifications on children as a class
(e.g. limitations on a child's ability to marry without parental
consent). Sotomayor's opinion was challenged by Associate Justice
Samuel Alito who wrote a dissenting opinion for four Justices.
A particularly fractious United States Supreme Court case was 2012's
United States v. Alvarez, involving judicial review in which the Court
struck down the Stolen Valor Act, a federal law that criminalized
false statements about having a military medal. The law had been
passed as an effort to stem instances where people falsely claimed to
have won the medal in an attempt to protect the "valor" of those who
really had. While a 6-3 majority of the Supreme Court agreed that the
law was unconstitutional under the First Amendment's free speech
protections, it could not agree on a single rationale. Sotomayor was
among four justices, along with Justices Roberts, Ginsburg and
Kennedy, who concluded that a statement's falsity is not enough, by
itself, to exclude speech from First Amendment protection. Justices
Breyer and Kagan concluded that while false statements were entitled
to some protection, the
Stolen Valor Act
Stolen Valor Act was invalid because it could
have achieved its objectives in less restrictive ways. Justices
Scalia, Thomas and Alito were in dissent.
Most visibly during the 2012 term, in National Federation of
Independent Business v. Sebelius, Sotomayor was part of a landmark
5–4 majority that upheld most of the provisions of the Patient
Protection and Affordable Care Act (while being part of a dissent
against the reliance upon the Constitution's Taxing and Spending
Clause rather than
Commerce Clause in arriving at the support). Legal
Jeffrey Toobin wrote, "Sotomayor's concerns tended toward the
earthbound and practical. Sometimes, during oral arguments, she would
go on tangents involving detailed questions about the facts of cases
that would leave her colleagues stupefied, sinking into their chairs.
This time, though, she had a simple line of inquiry. States require
individuals to buy automobile insurance (implicitly suggesting the
unavoidable comparison to health insurance and the fairness of the
applying the same principle to health insurance as well)."
Sotomayor concluded with the incisive rhetorical flourish in the Court
directed at the attorneys: "Do you think that if some states decided
not to impose an insurance requirement that the federal government
would be without power to legislate and require every individual to
buy car insurance?" For Toobin, this distinction drawn by Sotomayor
was the heart of the argument for the case in which she was part of
the prevailing majority opinion.
In another high-profile June 2012 decision at the end of her third
term, Sotomayor was part of a 5–3 majority in Arizona v. United
States that struck down several aspects of the Arizona SB 1070
anti-illegal immigration law. The Arizona case was decided as a
compromise verdict with Sotomayor joining Justices Roberts, Kennedy,
Ginsburg and Breyer in the majority, with Justice Kagan not
In 2013, Sotomayor's unjoined concurrence in the prior year's United
States v. Jones decision, in which she said that in the digital age,
"It may be necessary to reconsider the premise that an individual has
no reasonable expectation of privacy in information voluntarily
disclosed to third parties," was cited by federal judge Richard Leon
in his ruling that the National Security Agency's bulk collection of
Americans' telephony records likely violated the Fourth
Amendment. Law professors
Adam Winkler and
Laurence Tribe were
among those who said that Sotomayor's Jones concurrence had been
influential in calling out the need for a new basis in understanding
privacy requirements in a world, as she wrote, "in which people reveal
a great deal of information about themselves to third parties in the
course of carrying out mundane tasks."
On July 3, 2014, six justices ordered an injunction that allowed
Wheaton College of Illinois, a religiously affiliated university, an
exemption from complying with Affordable Care Act's mandate on
contraception. It came in the immediate wake of the Court's 5–4
decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, in which the conservative bloc had
prevailed, and was opposed by the court's three female members:
Sotomayor, Ginsburg and Kagan. They suggested that the Hobby Lobby
decision was not the Court's conclusive opinion on birth control. In
her dissent to the injunction, Sotomayor wrote that, "Those who are
bound by our decisions usually believe they can take us at our word
... Not today." Sotomayor stated further her opinion that the decision
compromised "hundreds of Wheaton's employees and students of their
legal entitlement to contraceptive coverage."
Sotomayor with her nephews at Yankee Stadium in 2007
Sotomayor was an adjunct professor at
New York University
New York University School of
Law from 1998 to 2007. There she taught trial and appellate
advocacy as well as a federal appellate court seminar. Beginning
in 1999, she was also a lecturer in law at
Columbia Law School
Columbia Law School in a
paying, adjunct faculty position. While there she created and
co-taught a class called the Federal Appellate Externship each
semester from 2000 until her departure; it combined classroom, moot
court, and Second Circuit chambers work. She became a member of
the Board of Trustees of
Princeton University in 2006, concluding her
term in 2011. In 2008, Sotomayor became a member of the
Belizean Grove, an invitation-only women's group modeled after the
men's Bohemian Grove. On June 19, 2009, Sotomayor resigned from
Belizean Grove after Republican politicians voiced concerns over
the group's membership policy.
Sotomayor has maintained a public presence, mostly through making
speeches, since joining the federal judiciary and throughout her time
on the Supreme Court. She gave over 180 speeches between
1993 and 2009, about half of which either focused on issues of
ethnicity or gender or were delivered to minority or women's
groups. While on the Supreme Court she has been invited to give
commencement addresses at a number of universities including New York
Yale University (2013), and the
University of Puerto Rico
University of Puerto Rico (2014). Her speeches have tended
to give a more defined picture of her worldview than her rulings on
the bench. The themes of her speeches have often focused on
ethnic identity and experience, the need for diversity, and America's
struggle with the implications of its diverse makeup. She has
also presented her career achievements as an example of the success of
affirmative action policies in university admissions, saying "I am the
perfect affirmative action baby" in regard to her belief that her
admission test scores were not comparable to those of her
classmates. During 2012 while already on the Supreme Court,
Sotomayor made two appearances as herself on the children's television
program Sesame Street, explaining what a vocational career is in
general and then demonstrating how a judge hears a case.
Sotomayor long lived in
Greenwich Village in
New York City
New York City and had few
financial assets other than her home. She enjoys shopping,
traveling, and giving gifts and helps support her mother and her
mother's husband in Florida. Regarding her short financial
disclosure reports prior to her Supreme Court nomination, she has
said, "When you don't have money, it's easy. There isn't anything
there to report." As a federal judge, she is entitled to a pension
equal to her full salary upon retirement. Upon joining the
Supreme Court, she took up residence in Washington but sorely missed
the faster-paced life of New York. After renting in the Cleveland
Park neighborhood for three years, in 2012 she purchased a condominium
in the U Street Corridor. She said, "I picked [that area] because
it's mixed. I walk out and I see all kinds of people, which is the
environment I grew up in and the environment I love."
She takes several daily insulin injections, and her diabetes is
considered to be well controlled. Sotomayor does not belong to a
Catholic parish or attend Mass, but does attend church for important
occasions. She has said, "I am a very spiritual person [though]
maybe not traditionally religious in terms of Sunday Mass every week,
that sort of thing. The trappings are not important to me, but, yes, I
do believe in God. And, yes, I do believe in the commandments."
She maintains ties with Puerto Rico, visiting once or twice a year,
speaking there occasionally, and visiting cousins and other relatives
who still live in the Mayagüez area. She has long stressed
her ethnic identity, saying in 1996, "Although I am an American, love
my country and could achieve its opportunity of succeeding at anything
I worked for, I also have a
Latina soul and heart, with the magic that
Sotomayor said of the years following her divorce, that "I have found
it difficult to maintain a relationship while I've pursued my
career." She has talked of herself as "emotionally withdrawn" and
lacking "genuine happiness" when living by herself; after becoming a
judge, she said she would not date lawyers. In 1997, she was
engaged to New York construction contractor Peter White, but the
relationship had ended by 2000.
In July 2010, Sotomayor signed a contract with
Alfred A. Knopf
Alfred A. Knopf to
publish a memoir about the early part of her life. She received
an advance of nearly $1.2 million for the work, which was
published in January 2013 and titled My Beloved World (Mi mundo
adorado in the simultaneously published Spanish edition). It focuses
on her life up to 1992, with recollections of growing up in housing
projects in New York and descriptions of the challenges she faced.
It received good reviews, with
Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times
describing it as "a compelling and powerfully written memoir about
identity and coming of age. ... It's an eloquent and affecting
testament to the triumph of brains and hard work over circumstance, of
a childhood dream realized through extraordinary will and
dedication." She staged a book tour to promote the work, and
it debuted atop the
New York Times
New York Times Best Seller List.
On December 31, 2013, Sotomayor pressed the ceremonial button and led
the final 60-second countdown at the Times Square New Year's Eve ball
drop, being the first United States Supreme Court justice to perform
Awards and honors
Sotomayor at the 2017 John P. Frank Memorial Lecture at Arizona State
University as the guest of honor.
Sotomayor has received honorary law degrees from Lehman College
Princeton University (2001), Brooklyn Law School
Pace University School of Law (2003), Hofstra
Northeastern University School of Law
Howard University (2010), St. Lawrence University
New York University
New York University (2012),Yale University
(2013), and the
University of Puerto Rico
University of Puerto Rico (2014).
She was elected a member of the
American Philosophical Society
American Philosophical Society in
2002. She was given the Outstanding Latino Professional Award in
2006 by the Latino/a Law Students Association. In 2008, Esquire
magazine included Sotomayor on its list of "The 75 Most Influential
People of the 21st Century". In 2013, Sotomayor won the Woodrow
Wilson Award at her alma mater Princeton University.
In June 2010, the Bronxdale Houses development, where Sotomayor grew
up, was renamed after her. The Justice
Sonia Sotomayor Houses and
Sonia Sotomayor Community Center comprise 28 buildings
with some 3,500 residents. While many New York housing
developments are named after well-known people, this was only the
second to be named after a former resident. In 2011, the Sonia M.
Sotomayor Learning Academies, a public high school complex in Los
Angeles, was named after her.
In 2013, a painting featuring her, Sandra Day O'Connor, Ruth Bader
Elena Kagan was unveiled at the Smithsonian's National
Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. According to the Smithsonian
at the time, the painting was on loan to the museum for three
In May 2015 she received the
Katharine Hepburn medal from Bryn Mawr
Katharine Hepburn Medal recognizes women who change
their worlds: those whose lives, work, and contributions embody the
intelligence, drive, and independence of the four-time Oscar winner
and her namesake mother, an early feminist activist.
My Beloved World.
Alfred A. Knopf
Alfred A. Knopf (2013) ISBN 0-307-59488-2.
"Statehood and the Equal Footing Doctrine: The Case for Puerto Rican
Seabed Rights", 88
Yale Law Journal 825 (1979)
"Returning Majesty to the Law and Politics: A Modern Approach" (with
Nicole A. Gordon), 30
Suffolk University Law Review
Suffolk University Law Review 35 (1996)
"La Independencia Judicial: Que Necesitamos Para Conservarla" 60
Revista Colegio de Abogados de Puerto Rico 59 (1999)
"Foreword", The International Judge: An Introduction to the Men and
Women Who Decide the World's Cases by Daniel Terris, Cesare P. R.
Romano, and Leigh Swigart,
University Press of New England (2007)
Latina Judge's Voice" (Judge Mario G. Olmos Memorial Lecture), in
symposium "Raising the Bar: Latino and
Latina Presence in the
Judiciary and the Struggle for Representation", Berkeley La Raza Law
Journal (Spring 2002)
"Tribute to John Sexton"[permanent dead link] 60 NYU Annual Survey of
American Law 23 (2004)
Hispanic and Latino Americans portal
Puerto Rico portal
Barack Obama Supreme Court candidates
Bill Clinton judicial appointment controversies
Demographics of the Supreme Court of the United States
George W. Bush
George W. Bush judicial appointment controversies
History of women in Puerto Rico
List of Puerto Ricans
List of Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States
List of law clerks of the Supreme Court of the United States
List of Roman Catholic United States Supreme Court justices
List of U.S. Supreme Court Justices by time in office
Coyle, Marcia (2013). The Roberts Court: The Struggle for the
Constitution. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Tushnet, Mark (2013). In the Balance: Law and Politics on the Roberts
Court. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
Toobin, Jeffrey (2012). The Oath: The Obama White House and The
Supreme Court. New York: Doubleday Press.
Tribe, Laurence; Matz, Joshua (2014). Uncertain Justice: The Roberts
Court and the Constitution. New York: Henry Holt and Company.
^ "Members of the Supreme Court of the United States". Supreme Court
of the United States. Retrieved April 26, 2010. Her commission
date was August 6, per the
Biographical Directory of Federal Judges at
Federal Judicial Center
Federal Judicial Center site, but the Supreme Court site states:
"The date a Member of the Court took his/her Judicial oath (the
Judiciary Act provided 'That the Justices of the Supreme Court, and
the district judges, before they proceed to execute the duties of
their respective offices, shall take the following oath ...') is here
used as the date of the beginning of his/her service, for until that
oath is taken he/she is not vested with the prerogatives of the
^ Audio file of Sotomayor's pronunciation of her name.
^ a b c d e f g h Goodstein, Laurie (May 30, 2009). "Sotomayor Would
Be Sixth Catholic Justice, but the Pigeonholing Ends There". The New
York Times. Retrieved May 31, 2009.
^ Sotomayor has used Maria as a middle name in the past but seems to
have discontinued its use. See Princeton yearbook image. In her 2009
questionnaire response to the
Senate Judiciary Committee
Senate Judiciary Committee considering
her nomination, she listed "Sonia Sotomayor" as her current name, and
"Sonia Maria Sotomayor", "
Sonia Sotomayor de Noonan", "Sonia Maria
Sotomayor Noonan", and "Sonia Noonan" as former names. See United
States Senate Committee on the Judiciary: Questionnaire for Judicial
Nominees, reprinted in proceedings of Senate Hearing no. 111-503,
Confirmation Hearing On The Nomination Of Hon. Sonia Sotomayor, To Be
Associate Justice Of The Supreme Court Of The United States, p.
152. Retrieved February 13, 2012.
^ a b c d e "Judge of the United States Courts – Sotomayor, Sonia".
Federal Judicial Center. Retrieved July 20, 2014.
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Retrieved May 27, 2009.
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With Island Roots Becomes a Superstar". The New York Times. Retrieved
May 30, 2009.
^ a b c Totenberg, Nina (January 12, 2013). "Sotomayor Opens Up About
Childhood, Marriage In 'Beloved World'". NPR. Retrieved January 24,
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Gay (May 26, 2009). "Woman in the News: Sotomayor, a Trailblazer and a
Dreamer". The New York Times. Retrieved May 27, 2009.
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^ a b c "A
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Appeals". Daily News. New York. Archived from the original on August
^ a b Doyle, Michael (June 5, 2009). "
Latina pride presents challenge
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Sonia Sotomayor is Obama's Supreme
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Princeton". The Daily Princetonian. Retrieved July 21, 2014.
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^ Sotomayor, Sonia. "
United States Senate
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"Sotomayor Is Recalled as a Driven Rookie Prosecutor". The New York
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^ a b "A Small Whittling Down Of Federal Bench Vacancies". The New
York Times. August 16, 1992.
^ a b c O'Neill, Ann (July 16, 2009). "Sotomayor learned the ropes on
'Tarzan' case". CNN. Retrieved July 16, 2009.
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(July 9, 2009). "To Get to Sotomayor's Core, Start in New York". The
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names: authors list (link)
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Good Morning America
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^ a b Kovaleski, Serge F. (July 6, 2009). "Little Information Given
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Sonia Sotomayor (ABA Profile, National
Hispanic Heritage Month
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^ Bravin, Jess & Koppel, Nathan (June 5, 2009). "Nominee's
Criminal Rulings Tilt to Right of Souter". The Wall Street Journal.
Retrieved June 7, 2009.
^ "Study: Sotomayor tough on white-collar criminals". USA Today.
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^ Silverman v.
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Major League Baseball Player Relations Committee, Inc.,
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^ The speech recapitulated many thoughts and exact phrases she had
previously given before a 1994 panel on women in the judiciary. See
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Investiture Ceremony" (PDF). Supreme Court of the
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May 30, 2012.
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Hispanic Justice on the Court
in the '30s?". The New York Times. Retrieved June 19, 2009.
^ "Cardozo was first, but was he Hispanic?". USA Today. May 27, 2009.
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Confirmed to Supreme Court". WNBC-TV. Retrieved August 5, 2010.
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court". The New York Times. Retrieved August 5, 2014.
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new justice". CNN. Retrieved October 14, 2009.
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Age". The New York Times. p. A1.
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Supreme Court be without its liberal leader?". The New Yorker.
Retrieved March 16, 2010.
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Divides". The New York Times. p. A1.
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Retrieved June 2, 2009.
Sonia Sotomayor at the Biographical Directory of Federal Judges, a
public domain publication of the Federal Judicial Center.
Sonia Sotomayor at Ballotpedia
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