Hispanic Heritage Month

A Justice Like No Other

Sonia Sotomayor is the first Hispanic American to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court

September 18, 2009

On September 8, 2009, Sonia Sotomayor was formally sworn in as the 111th U.S. Supreme Court Justice. She is the first Hispanic American to serve on the nation's highest court.


It was a day for the history books. In a formal welcoming ceremony, Sonia Sotomayor, 55, donned her black robe and took her seat on the Supreme Court for the first time. Sotomayor is the first Hispanic American and only the third woman to serve on the nation's top court in its 220-year history.

President Barack Obama and members of Sotomayor's family watched as Sotomayor took the judicial oath in a packed courtroom. "We wish you a long and happy career in our common calling," said Chief Justice John Roberts.

On the Job Sotomayor heard her first argument, in a campaign-finance case, the day after taking the oath. For more than a century, the Supreme Court has ruled that corporations cannot spend money on election campaigns. Now, the court may overturn its past decisions. How will Sotomayor rule? During Senate confirmation hearings in July, she promised to tread "very, very cautiously" when examining previous decisions.

From the Bronx to the Bench

President Obama nominated Sotomayor to be a Justice on the Supreme Court last May. She replaces David Souter, who retired. Obama said he was drawn by Sotomayor's "extraordinary" life.

Sotomayor's parents moved from Puerto Rico to New York City in the 1950s. She grew up in a working-class neighborhood in the Bronx. After Sotomayor's father died, her mother had to raise two children on her own.

"[My mother] taught us that the key to success in America is a good education," Sotomayor said after her nomination.

She and her brother took their studies seriously. Today, Sotomayor's brother is a doctor. Sotomayor has worked as a lawyer and a judge. She says she never dreamed she would one day sit on the Supreme Court.

"It is our nation's faith in a more perfect union that allows a Puerto Rican girl from the Bronx to stand here now," she said in August. "I am struck again by the wonder of my own life and the life we in America are so privileged to lead."

A Judge's Journey

When Sonia Sotomayor was a young girl, the TV lawyer Perry Mason inspired her to study law. Here is a look at Sotomayor's life and career.

1954: On June 24, Sotomayor is born in New York City. Her parents had moved to New York from Puerto Rico.

1963: When Sotomayor is 9, her father dies, leaving her mother to raise two children.

1968: Sotomayor graduates from eighth grade at Blessed Sacrament School, in New York City. She is the top student and has a near-perfect attendance record. Four years later, she graduates from Cardinal Spellman High School. She is at the top of her class again.

1976: Sotomayor graduates from Princeton University, in New Jersey, with highest honors.

1979: She receives a degree from Yale Law School, in Connecticut. She goes to work in the district attorney's office in New York City. As a prosecutor, or a lawyer who represents the government in court, Sotomayor tries criminal cases.

1984: Sotomayor joins a private law firm in New York City.

1992: Sotomayor is appointed a federal district judge.

1998: Sotomayor joins the U.S. Court of Appeals. This court reviews cases from lower courts.

2009: On May 26, President Barack Obama nominates Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. Three months later, she is sworn in as the 111th Justice of the nation's highest court.

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