WASHINGTON – President Obama nominated appeals court judge Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court on Tuesday, making her the first Hispanic in history to be elevated to the high court.
Sotomayor, 54, who has been a federal judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit since 1998, has a formidable resume. From 1992 to 1998, Sotomayor was a federal judge for the U. S. District Court Southern District of New York. She served as an assistant district attorney for New York County from 1979 to 1984. Sotomayor also worked in private practice for the New York-based law firm Pavia & Harcourt from 1984 to 1992.
Bill Clinton nominated Sotomayor for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in 1997. George H. W. Bush nominated Sotomayor as a federal judge in 1991 — a position that made Sotomayor the youngest judge in the Southern District of New York and the first Hispanic federal judge in the state.
As a district judge, Sotomayor advanced First Amendment religious claims by tossing out a state prison rule banning members of a religious sect from wearing colored beads to ward off evil spirits, and by rejecting a suburban law preventing the display of a 9-foot-high menorah in a park.
In 1995, Sotomayor made a key ruling that brought Major League Baseball back to the nation after a strike — a ruling that was among the most important moments of her career. Because of her position on the bench in New York, she was put in the position to essentially decide the future of a sport she so loved.
Acknowledging the pivotal moment, Sotomayor described how it is "when you see an outfielder backpedaling and jumping up to the wall and time stops for an instant as he jumps up and you finally figure out whether it's a home run, a double or a single off the wall or an out."
Then she scolded baseball owners for unfair labor practices and urged lawyers for striking players and the owners to salvage the 1995 season, reach a new labor agreement and change their attitudes.
Sotomayor also released the suicide note of former White House aide Vincent Foster in 1995, acting on litigation brought by the Wall Street Journal under the Freedom of Information Act.
But Sotomayor's work as a judge is not without controversy. During a speech at the University of California at Berkeley, Sotomayor said, "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."
And in 2005, when Sotomayor spoke on a Duke University forum, she said, "All of the legal defense funds out there, they're looking for people with court of appeals experience" because "the court of appeals is where policy is made."
Sotomayor also served on a three-judge panel that declined to address the Constitutional issues at stake in Ricci v. DeStefano, a case involving white firefighters who claim they were denied promotions because of "reverse discrimination."
A New York native, Sotomayor graduated summa cum laude from Princeton University in 1976. She earned her law degree from Yale Law School in 1979. Sotomayor has received honorary degrees from Lehman College, Princeton University, Brooklyn Law School, Pace University School of Law, Hofstra University and Northeastern University.
Sotomayor was born in the Bronx, N.Y., to Puerto Rican parents and was raised in a housing project. Her father, a factory worker, died when she was nine-years-old. Her mother, a nurse, raised Sotomayor, who was diagnosed with diabetes at age eight.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.