Sonia Sotomayor: Obama's Supreme Court Nominee

  • Share
  • Read Later
Susan Walsh / AP

U.S. President Barack Obama nominated Appeals Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor to become the next Supreme Court Justice

A Manhattan judge who grew up hooked on Perry Mason and took just 15 minutes to end the 1995 baseball strike is President Obama's choice to replace retiring Justice David Souter on the U.S. Supreme Court. Sonia Sotomayor, who would be the first Latino on the high court, emerged from a more hardscrabble background than have most jurists who reach the top rungs of America's legal system. Sotomayor, 54, was raised by Puerto Rican parents in a South Bronx housing project a few miles from the old Yankee Stadium. Her father, a tool-and-die maker who died when Sotomayor was 9, had a third-grade education and spoke only Spanish; her mother worked as a nurse at a methadone clinic and bought the neighborhood's only set of encyclopedias. A fiercely devoted student, Sotomayor attended Catholic schools and then Princeton University on a scholarship, graduating summa cum laude. She later attended Yale Law School and worked for the Manhattan district attorney's office as well as a prestigious corporate firm before donning judges' robes. She was nominated to New York's U.S. District Court by President George H.W. Bush, later rising to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York.

Supporters say Sotomayor would bring much needed passion and real-world experience to the Supreme Court, while detractors claim she bullies attorneys from the bench and lacks intellectual firepower. A divorced food buff who listens to soft rock, Sotomayor once reportedly joked about the ease of filling out financial-disclosure forms on her relatively modest judicial salary: "When you don't have money, it's easy. There isn't anything there to report."

(Read Mark Halperin's take on Sotomayor's upcoming confirmation battle.)

Fast Facts:
• Born June 25, 1954. Grew up in the Bronxdale Houses, a public-housing project.

• Contracted juvenile diabetes and began insulin injections at age 8. Did not speak fluent English until after her father died when she was 9.

• First wanted to be a police officer after reading the Nancy Drew mystery stories but was told her diabetes might prevent fulfilling that dream. Later settled on becoming a judge after watching Perry Mason episodes, noting the judge was the most powerful person in the courtroom.

• Graduated summa cum laude from Princeton University in 1976. Served as an editor of the Yale Law Journal at Yale Law School, graduating in 1979.

• Joined the Manhattan district attorney's office, where from 1979 to 1984 she prosecuted cases involving robberies, assaults and other crimes. Later spent eight years at the law firm Pavia & Harcourt, specializing in intellectual property and rising to partner.

• Nominated by President George H.W. Bush in 1992 to become the youngest judge in the Southern District of New York. Nominated by President Bill Clinton to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in 1998.

• Best known for taking just 15 minutes to deliberate before issuing the injunction that stopped the Major League Baseball strike of 1995. Also well known for ruling against a group of white firefighters from Connecticut who were denied a promotion because not enough minority candidates had passed the advancement exam. Has issued few rulings on cultural flash points like abortion.

• Drew criticism for saying the court of appeals "is where policy is made" on a Duke University Law School panel several years ago. The clip is available on YouTube.

• In addition to working as a judge, taught law at New York and Columbia universities. Also active in numerous pro bono causes.

• Lists an apartment in Greenwich Village as her primary asset.

• Married while a student at Princeton and divorced five years later. Does not have children. Has one brother, a doctor in Syracuse, N.Y.

• Would be the sixth Catholic on the Supreme Court.

Quotes About:

"She's faced down barriers, overcome the odds, lived out the American Dream that brought her parents here so long ago. And even as she has accomplished so much in her life, she has never forgotten where she began, never lost touch with the community that supported her."
— President Obama, announcing his nomination of Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. (May 26, 2009)

"She is not just very smart, she's very likable ... She's very down-to-earth."
— Cesar Perales, president of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund. (New York Daily News, May 2, 2009)

"She is, in a way, a counterpart of Obama himself ... It's the American Dream — anybody can make it."
— George Pavia, managing partner of Pavia & Harcourt. (Washington Post, May 7, 2009)

"Judge Sotomayor is a liberal judicial activist of the first order who thinks her own personal political agenda is more important than the law as written."
— Wendy E. Long, counsel to the Judicial Confirmation Network. (May 25, 2009)

Quotes From:

"I stand on the shoulders of countless people, yet there is one extraordinary person who is my life aspiration. That person is my mother, Celina Sotomayor." — Accepting Obama's nomination to the Supreme Court. (May 26, 2009)

"I have spent my years since Princeton, while at law school and in my various professional jobs, not feeling completely a part of the worlds I inhabit. I am always looking over my shoulder wondering if I measure up."
(New York Times, May 14, 2009)

"I don't expect melodrama here. I don't want anybody aspiring to what they see on the screen."
— Her warning to participants of a 1996 court case involving the family of a lawyer who died of AIDS. The family claimed the makers of the film Philadelphia stole their story. The movie had been screened in the courtroom earlier. (AP, May 26, 2009)

"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. I have no right to complain."
— On the high salary she earned as a corporate attorney before becoming a judge. (AP, May 26, 2009)

"We educated, privileged lawyers have a professional and moral duty to represent the underrepresented in our society, to ensure that justice exists for all, both legal and economic justice."
(The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education, November 2002)

Read "Why Obama Picked Sotomayor."

See TIME's top 10 Supreme Court nomination battles.