20 Impressive Facts About Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor
In 2009, Judge Sonia Sotomayor made histor by becoming the first Latina ever to become a member of the Supreme Court. She is also only the third woman to serve as a Supreme Court Justice. While both facts are interesting on their own, there are many more fascinating details that make up Justice Sotomayor’s life.
Between her parents’ humble beginnings, her years in prestigious colleges and her life as a judge, the Latina from the Bronx has conquered a lot. Still, the Supreme Court Justice acknowledges the power of growth. She aspires to be an imperfect role model for those who live an imperfect lives. That acknowledgment of both her victories and her flaws make her the multifaceted idol that the Latinidad deserves.
Here are 20 amazing facts about the life of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
1. Sotomayor is a Boricua.
Twitter / @Latina
Justice Sotomayor’s parents were both born in Puerto Rico but moved to the Bronx during World War II. Though they were both from the island, they actually didn’t meet until after they relocated. Her father, Juan, was from San Juan while her mother, Celina, was from the rural area of Puerto Rico’s southwestern coast. Though they were both from the same territory, they otherwise has little in common.
2. The Supreme Court Justice was diagnosed with diabetes as a child.
Growing up in their modest home in the Bronx presented the Sotomayor family with many challenges. One such obstacle is something the Supreme Court Justice still contends with today. At the age of 7, Sotomayor was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. From that day on, the young Latina would have to take daily insulin shots to regulate her blood sugar levels.
3. Her father tragically passed away when she was a girl.
Sotomayor’s father was a non-English speaking laborer with a serious drinking problem. Though he always supported the family, his alcoholism caused tension in the already strained family. Unfortunately, Sotomayor would lose her father when she was 9. Juan Sotomayor died at the age of 42 due to heart disease. His loss would put even more strain on the impoverished household.
4. Her childhood idol came straight of the pages of a very popular bookend series.
The New York Times
Despite the hardship that young Sonia faced, she found a haven in the pages of her favorite works of children’s literature. As a girl, she was inspired by kid detective Nancy Drew and her investigative heroics. Because of her “Nancy Drew” books, Sotomayor wanted to pursue career as a detective. However, after her diabetes diagnosis, her doctors suggested she find another dream.
5. Her dream to become a judge came from a piece of pop culture.
REX / Shutterstock
After her doctors advised against being a detective, the young Sotomayor found a new dream. Instead of from the pages of her favorite books, this one came from the small screen. As a girl, the future Supreme Court Justice was inspired to pursue a legal career after watching “Perry Mason.” By the age of 10, Sotomayor set her sights on going to college to become a lawyer and later becoming a judge.
6. Sotomayor’s mother had high expectations for her children.
My Beloved World / Sonia Sotomayor
Justice Sotomayor grew up with a mother who was emotionally distant. Perhaps it was the stress of raising two children alone, but Celina Sotomayor was not a warm and doting mother. However, she was fanatically committed to her children’s education. Her mother purchased a complete collection of “Encyclopedia Britannica” for her children’s personal use — a huge expense and luxury for the time. Despite their distance, Justice Sotomayor credits her mother as her life’s inspiration.
7. That focus resulted in a full scholarship to Princeton University.
Princeton Alumni Weekly
Her mother’s strict focus on Sotomayor’s academics paid off. The future Supreme Court Justice was valedictorian of both her grammar school and her high school. This academic excellence would also land her a full scholarship to Princeton University — despite the cultural biases that Sotomayor acknowledged hindered her test scores.
8. The future-Supreme Court Justice had academic trouble in college.
Wagner Faculty / Nassau Herald
Sotomayor’s entrance into Princeton was a culture shock. Her entrance class had few women and only about 20 Latinos total. She has described her time there as being like “a visitor landing in an alien country.” Sotomayor was afraid to ask questions or for much needed help during her first year of college. After receiving low test scores her first semester, the future Supreme Court Justice opened up and sought out help from tutors.
9. Still, she managed to graduate with highest marks.
Despite her rough start, Sotomayor aced her final two years of undergrad. Her senior thesis, “La Historia Ciclica de Puerto Rico,” won honorable mention for the Latin American Studies Thesis Prize. Her senior year, she won the Pyne Prize — an award for undergraduates recognizing excellence in academics and extracurriculars. She also graduated summa cum laude with an A.B. in History.
10. She was appointed unanimously as a US District Court Judge.
In the early 1990’s, Sotomayor had proven herself to be a political centrist with a long history of pro bono service work. This, coupled with the support of senators like Ted Kennedy, earned the Latina a nomination to a seat on the US District Court. It was President H. W. Bush who nominated Sotomayor and she would go on to be confirmed unanimously.
11. Sotomayor has taught at some of the most prestigious law schools in the US.
Vanderbilt University / Joe Howell
Besides attending some of the best schools in the nation, Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor has also taught at many. From 1998 through 2007, she taught trail and appellate advocacy at New York University School of Law as an adjunct professor. Later in 1999, the future Supreme Court Justice would go on to lecture at Columbia Law School.
12. Republican opposition delayed her Court of Appeals nomination for over a year.
Instagram / @monicamzanetti
In 1997, President Bill Clinton nominated Sotomayor for a position on the US Court of Appeals. Since her previous nomination was confirmed so quickly, this one was expected to be the same. However, it quickly became a political stand off. Republicans wanted to block Sotomayor because they saw it as a move by the Clinton Administration to have the first Latino in line for Supreme Court. The delay lasted over a year until she was finally confirmed (67-29).
13. The housing project she grew up in now bares her name.
CBS New York
In honor of all that Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor has accomplished, her childhood community decided to honor her in a big way. In 2010, the Bronxdale Houses — the housing project she was raised in — were named in honor of the newly appointed justice. The NYCHA development is now called the Justice Sonia Sotomayor Houses.
14. It took just under 5 months for her to be confirmed to the Supreme Court.
The New York Times
Although it took such a long time to confirm her to the US Court of Appeals, her confirmation to the Supreme Court went more smoothly. In May of 2009, President Barack Obama nominated the Latina for her position on the highest court of America. Liberals celebrated her nomination as a move towards putting leaders with heart on the bench while Conservatives worried about her “Latino bias.” Opponents like Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich claimed Sotomayor was “racist” against white people. Still, she was confirmed on a vote of 68-31 less than 5 months later.
15. She has a unique relationship with the New York Yankees.
Twitter / @YESNetwork
Growing up in the Bronx, it’s only natural that Sotomayor is a lifelong New York Yankees fan. Besides regularly attending games, the Supreme Court Justice was able to throw out the ceremonial first pitch during the Yankees 2009-2010 season. The Yankees had an incredible season, winning the World Series. To thank Justice Sotomayor for the good energy she sent with her first pitch, the Yankees brought their World Series Championship trophy to visit Sotomayor’s Supreme Court chambers.
16. Sotomayor has had some major health scares during her time as Justice.
Twitter / CNNPolitics
Having lived with diabetes since such a young age, Sotomayor has learned what works for her body. Unfortunately, in 2018, the Supreme Court Justice had a scare involving low blood sugar. Paramedics were called and Sotomayor was treated and escorted home. However, after a day of rest, the Latina was back at work. That same year, Justice Sotomayor suffered a broken shoulder because of a fall. She had to undergo a reverse total shoulder replacement surgery. It’s taken some physical therapy, but the judge is back to her usual self.
17. She has weighed in on some of the most substantial Supreme Court cases in US history.
Instagram / @theluzcollective
There are almost too many notable decisions made by Sotomayor in her career as a judge to mention here so let’s focus on her time in the Supreme Court. She ruled with the majority that upheld the Obama Administration’s Affordable Care Act. The Supreme Court Justice also sided with the majority in the Obergefell v. Hodges case that legalized marriage equality. Finally, she recently voted against the Trump Administration’s controversial Muslim Ban.
18. She has been a champion of marginalized communities.
Instagram / law_office_justica
Sotomayor has acknowledged that she is a woman who has benefited from affirmative action. As such, she’s been a vocal champion in favor of affirmative action programs that grant women and minorities a level playing field. In 2014, the court upheld a Michigan case that barred affirmative action programs. In response, Sotomayor wrote a 58 page dissenting response — three times longer than the decision to uphold — explaining that the court’s duty is defend the civil rights of historically marginalized groups.
19. Sotomayor wrote a best selling book about her life.
Instagram / @melannrosenthal
In 2010, Sotomayor signed on to write an autobiography and received an advance of almost $1.2 Million for her words. Titled “My Beloved World,” the book was also published in Spanish and told the story of her life up until her Supreme Court nomination. The memoir was critically acclaimed and spent numerous weeks on the “New York Times” Bestseller List — even debuting at number one.
20. She’s also written a children’s story book.
Instagram / @PenguinKids
Besides inspiring adults with her memoir, Sotomayor wanted to share her story with kids. A reminder that they could achieve their dreams no matter what, “Turning Pages: My Life Story” was published in 2018. Described as thoughtful and sincere, the book was well received by critics and remains a great read — especially for young Latinas who dare to dream.
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