A Salute to Sonia
By Marcy Driehaus
She is feisty. She is fierce. Her intelligence and drive is unceasing. She has singlehandedly made history. She embraces her heritage by adamantly declaring that “The Latina in me is an ember that blazes forever.” She dishes out heaps of justice like it’s no one’s business. She is Supreme Court Associate Justice, Sonia Sotomayor.
Sotomayor’s life began in the Bronx, New York City, on June 25, 1954. Her parents Juan, a tool and die worker, and Celina, a nurse, moved from Puerto Rico to New York in order to pursue a brighter future. Sadly, grief struck Sotomayor’s life at the tender age of 9 with her father’s untimely passing. Her mother’s efforts towards bringing in a comfortable income after Juan’s death were tireless yet futile. Sotomayor’s modest upbringing, however, didn’t impede her ambition to become a judge. This career objective was triggered by Perry Mason: a television show that she watched as a child. Once her mind was set on the judiciary lifestyle, Sotomayor was unstoppable.
After graduating from Cardinal Spellman High School in 1972, Sotomayor was plunged into the intellectually indulgent world of Princeton University’s Ivy League. During her time at Princeton, she was active in various Puerto Rican groups on campus including Accion Puertorriquena and The Third World Center. Sotomayor credits these groups for providing her with what she says was “an anchor I needed to ground myself in that new and different world.” Not only was Sotomayor an exemplary advocate for Puerto Rican- Americans, but she also found herself working with the university’s disciplinary board. The skills she acquired through her experience with the discipline committee equipped her with the legal expertise that would contribute to the success of her career. After her time at Princeton, Sotomayor went on to study at Yale Law School where she was the editor for the Yale Law Journal. Sotomayor earned her J.D. in 1979 and passed the bar (the admission to officially practice law) in 1980.
Sotomayor climbed the juridical ladder, first working as an attorney in Manhattan, then a trial lawyer, and eventually entering a private practice where she focused on intellectual property litigation in 1984. From this practice, Sotomayor was able to transition into her position as associate to partner at Pavia & Harcourt. Amid her profession rapidly taking off, Sotomayor was also actively serving on the board of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund. It was work such as this that captivated a number of powerful politicians, among them being Senators Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Edward M. Kennedy. The senators’ recognition and admiration of Sotomayor was ultimately the gateway to her being appointed as the youngest U.S. District Court Judge for the Southern District of New York City by President George H.W. Bush in 1992. After serving in this position for about six years, she was elevated to the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals by President Clinton in October of 1998. Throughout the years following this accolade, Sotomayor taught at NYU and Columbia Law School and received honorary law degrees from Herbert H. Lehman College, Brooklyn Law School, and Princeton University.
On May 26, 2009, Sotomayor was nominated for Supreme Court Justice by President Barack Obama, affirming her approval from presidents of both political parties. After this nomination was officially confirmed, Sotomayor was deemed the third female and first Hispanic person in Supreme Court History.
In light of the financial hardships she was burdened with as a child and young adult, her divorce from her husband in 1983, and her current battle against type 1 diabetes, Sotomayor has never allowed barriers to stand in the way of her aspirations. “An alcoholic father, poverty, my own juvenile diabetes, the limited English my parents spoke – although my mother has become completely bilingual since. All these things intrude on what most people think of as happiness.” said Sotomayor in an interview with Oprah Winfrey. By saying this, Sotomayor is suggesting that one controls his/her own happiness. This notion speaks volumes about the positive impact that activism and motivation can have on a person’s life and the happiness that can ensue as a result of these things. Sotomayor is a solid role model for young men and women everywhere, as well as serving as the poster child for the American dream. As long as Sotomayor is serving on Supreme Court, rest assured justice will be served. Caso cerrado!