Sonia Sotomayor is from the Bronx, in New York City. Her parents, Juan and Celina Baez Sotomayor, had recently come to the United States from Puerto Rico. They wanted to start a family in New York. As a child, Sotomayor learned she had diabetes. She quickly learned to manage the illness. In later years, she said that helped her gain a strong sense of discipline.
When Sotomayor was 9 years old, her father died. Her mother worked multiple jobs to provide for Sonia and her brother, Juan. Sotomayor has said that she turned to books to cope with the loss of her father. She credits her mother with encouraging her love of reading and her desire to excel in school. “My mother taught us that the key to success in America is a good education,” said Sotomayor during her Supreme Court confirmation hearing. She became a top student at Cardinal Spellman High School, in the Bronx. She received a scholarship to attend Princeton University, in New Jersey.
Sotomayor’s first two years at Princeton were tough. She once said that when she got to the school she felt like “a visitor landing in an alien country.” But when she graduated, in 1976, Sotomayor received the Pyne Prize. It is one of the university’s highest honors.
After Princeton, Sotomayor attend Yale Law School, in Connecticut. At Yale, she was an editor at the Yale Law Journal. It is a journal that reviews legal cases. She earned her law degree in 1979. Sotomayor then returned to New York City. There, she worked as an assistant district attorney until 1984. She then worked for private law firm. She also volunteered at organizations such as the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund.
Sotomayor was sworn into office in 2009 with her mother, Celina Báez, by her side. Sotomayor credits her mother for inspiring her love of books and her desire to excel in school.
Sotomayor’s skills as a lawyer and her volunteer work caught the eye of political leaders. In 1992, President George H.W. Bush nominated her to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York City. During her time at this job, Sotomayor heard the 1995 case dealing with a Major League Baseball strike. Team owners had changed rules about players’ salary and free agency without asking the players’ union. Sotomayor decided that it had been wrong for team owners to do this. Her decision ended the strike. The strike had caused the cancellation of the entire 1994 postseason and World Series.
Sonia Sotomayor (top row, third from left) is the first Hispanic American to serve on the Supreme Court.
ALEX WONG—GETTY IMAGES
In 1998, President Bill Clinton appointed Sotomayor to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. In 2009, President Barack Obama called her the judge that “saved baseball” when he nominated her to serve as an associate justice of the Supreme Court. The Senate quickly confirmed her. She joined the court on August 8, 2009. She was the first Hispanic and the third woman to become a Supreme Court justice.
Recently, Justice Sotomayor has presided over Supreme Court cases dealing with issues on privacy, civil rights, and First Amendment rights. In 2013, she published her memoir, My Beloved World.