International Womxn’s Day Honoree – Sonia Sotomayor

The first Latina and third womxn, to serve on the Supreme Court of the United State

International Womxn’s Day is celebrated in many countries around the world. It is a day when womxn are recognized for their achievements without regard to divisions, whether national, ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic or political. International Womxn’s Day is a time to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary womxn, who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries or communities.1 

For this year’s International Womxn’s Day, we would like to honor Sonia Sotomayor, a womxn of color who broke boundaries by becoming the first Latina, and the third womxn, to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States.

Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor made history in 2009 by becoming the first Latina to serve on the Supreme Court. As President Barack Obama’s first nominee, Sotomayor won confirmation 68-31, picking up eight Republican votes in the Senate.2 Born to a Puerto Rican family, she grew up in a public housing project in the South Bronx. Her parents moved to New York during World War II – her mother served in the Women’s Auxiliary Corps during the war. Her father, a factory worker with a third-grade education, died when Sotomayor was nine years old. Her mother, a nurse, then raised Sotomayor and her younger brother, Juan, now a physician in Syracuse. After her father’s death, Sotomayor turned to books for solace, and it was her new found love of Nancy Drew that inspired a love of reading and learning, a path that ultimately led her to the law.3

Driven by an indefatigable work ethic, and rising to the challenge of managing a diagnosis of juvenile diabetes, Sotomayor excelled in school. Sotomayor graduated as valedictorian of her class at Blessed Sacrament and at Cardinal Spellman High School in New York. She first heard about the Ivy League from her high school debate coach, Ken Moy, who attended Princeton University, and she soon followed in his footsteps after winning a scholarship.

At Princeton, she continued to excel, graduating summa cum laude, and Phi Beta Kappa. She was a co-recipient of the M. Taylor Pyne Prize, the highest honor Princeton awards to an undergraduate. At Yale Law School, Judge Sotomayor served as an editor of the Yale Law Journal and as managing editor of the Yale Studies in World Public Order. One of Sotomayor’s former Yale Law School classmates, Robert Klonoff (now Dean of Lewis & Clark Law School), remembers her intellectual toughness from law school: “She would stand up for herself and not be intimidated by anyone.”4

Over a distinguished career that spans three decades, Judge Sotomayor has worked at almost every level of our judicial system – yielding a depth of experience and a breadth of perspectives that is invaluable. New York City District Attorney Morgenthau praised Sotomayor as an “able champion of the law” who would be “highly qualified for any position in which wisdom, intelligence, collegiality and good character could be assets.”5

More than a decade into her service, Sotomayor has emerged as the voice of the liberal conscience. She wrote a 58 page dissent in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, which held that prohibitions to state universities from considering race in admission decisions was constitutional. Sotomayor has also joined the liberal majority on recent landmark cases. She ruled in the majority which upheld the Affordable Care Act twice, and in Obergefell v. Hodges, to legalize same-sex marriage in all 50 states. In 2018, Sotomayor wrote a 28-page dissent from the court’s 5-4 decision upholding President Donald Trump’s ban on travel from several Muslim-majority nations, and she summarized it for 20 minutes from the bench.6 

Sotomayor is known on the court for her trust in the judicial process, and her cutthroat attitude toward ill-prepared attorneys. She is also known for her kindness toward jurors and the attorneys who work hard to advocate for their clients.

By: Niloofar Henzaki

Director of Communications





4 Washington Post, 5/7/09

5 Wall Street Journal, 5/9/09


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