Sotomayor for Court
Doug Mills/The New York Times
President Obama with Judge Sonia Sotomayor and Vice
President Joseph R. Biden Jr. in the White House on Tuesday.
Would Be First Hispanic Justice
By PETER BAKER and
JEFF ZELENY, nytimes.com from the Web, May 26, 2009
President Obama announced on Tuesday
that he had chosen Judge Sonia Sotomayor of a Federal Court of Appeals based in
New York as his nominee for the Supreme Court.
May 26, 2009
Sonia Sotomayor has been a judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the
Second Circuit since 1998. Before joining the appeals court, she served as
a United States District Court judge for the Southern District of New York.
On May 26, 2009, White House officials said that she was President Obama's
choice to replace Justice David H. Souter, who plans to retire from the Supreme
Court in June.
In what may be her best-known ruling, in April 1995 Judge Sotomayor issued an
injunction against major league baseball owners, effectively ending a baseball
strike of nearly eight months, the longest work stoppage in professional sports
history, which had led to the cancellation of the World Series for the first
time in 90 years.
On the district court bench, Judge Sotomayor earned a reputation as a sharp,
outspoken and fearless jurist, someone who does not let powerful interests
bully, rush or cow her into a decision. "She does not have much patience
for people trying to snow her," said one lawyer in 1995, who had cases pending
before the judge and asked not to be identified. "You can't do it."
While still in her 30s, Judge Sotomayor became the youngest judge in the
Southern District of New York. She was the first American of Puerto Rican
descent to be appointed to the Federal bench in New York City.
Born in the Bronx on June 23, 1954, she was diagnosed with diabetes at the age
of 8. Her father, a factory worker, died a year later. Her mother, a
nurse at a methadone clinic, raised her daughter and a younger son on a modest
Judge Sotomayor graduated from Princeton University summa cum laude in 1976 and
became an editor of the Yale Law Journal. She spent five years as a
prosecutor with the Manhattan District Attorney's office before entering private
But she longed to return to public service, she said, inspired by the "Perry
Mason" series she watched as a child. In 1992, Senator Daniel Patrick
Moynihan recommended the politically centrist lawyer to President George H. W.
Bush, making good on a longstanding promise to appoint a Hispanic judge in New
On the Circuit Court, she has been involved in few controversial issues like
abortion. Some of her most notable decisions came in child custody and
complex business cases. Her most high-profile case involved New Haven's
decision to toss out tests used to evaluate candidates for promotion in the fire
department because there were no minority candidates at the top of the list.
She was part of a panel that rejected the challenge brought by white
firefighters who scored high but were denied promotion. Frank Ricci, the
lead plaintiff, argued that it was unfair he was denied promotion after he had
studied intensively for the exam and even paid for special coaching to overcome
The case produced a heated split in the Circuit Court and is now before the
While Judge Sotomayor is not seen as an extreme liberal or a crusader on the
bench, she has made some remarks that are likely to draw fire from Republicans
during the confirmation process.
In 2001, she gave a speech declaring that the ethnicity and sex of a judge "may
and will make a difference in our judging." In her speech, at a conference
on diversity, Judge Sotomayor questioned the famous notion -- often invoked by
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her retired Supreme Court colleague, Sandra Day
O'Connor -- that a wise old man and a wise old woman would reach the same
conclusion when deciding cases.
"I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences
would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't
lived that life," said Judge Sotomayor.
Another statement that has already drawn criticism from conservative bloggers
came on a video that surfaced in May of Judge Sotomayor asserting in 2005 that a
"court of appeals is where policy is made." She then immediately adds:
"And I know -- I know this is on tape, and I should never say that because we
don't make law. I know. O.K. I know. I'm not promoting
it. I'm not advocating it. I'm -- you know."
The video was of a panel discussion for law students interested in becoming
clerks, and she was explaining the different experiences gained when working at
district courts and appeals courts.
And a memorandum on Judge Sotomayor prepared by conservative groups pooling
research on potential nominees cites a ruling in which she said a man could sue
a private corporation for violating his constitutional rights while acting as a
government contractor. Her decision was reversed by the Supreme Court,
which said only individual agents, not corporations, may be sued for such