Appeals court judge Sonia Sotomayor '76, shown as she received an honorary degree from Pace University in 2003, has been nominated to become a Supreme Court justice.
Appeals court judge Sonia Sotomayor '76, shown as she received an honorary degree from Pace University in 2003, has been nominated to become a Supreme Court justice.
Courtesy Pace University

Federal appeals court judge Sonia Sotomayor ’76 was nominated May 26 for a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. If confirmed, she would become the first Hispanic justice and the third woman to serve on the court. She would succeed Justice David Souter, who is retiring. President Barack Obama praised Sotomayor as “an inspiring woman” and cited her intellect and compassion, noting that she has more experience as a judge than any current member of the high court had when nominated. “My heart today is bursting with gratitude,” Sotomayor said after being introduced by Obama at the White House.

Sotomayor was nominated as a federal judge in 1991, and was nominated for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in 1997. Sotomayor, 54, was awarded an honorary doctor of laws degree from Princeton in 2001 for her “wisdom and judgment that cross cultural boundaries.” She has been a University trustee since 2007.

The daughter of parents from Puerto Rico, Sotomayor grew up in the Bronx, N.Y. Her father died when she was 9; she was raised by her mother, who worked to send her and a brother to Catholic school. The New York Times quoted Sotomayor as saying that at Princeton she felt like “a visitor landing in an alien country.” But she was Phi Beta Kappa, and graduated summa cum laude as a history major. She was a founder of the Latino Student Organization and a member of the Third World Center’s governing board, and helped organize Latino students as volunteers to provide Spanish-speaking skills at Trenton Psychiatric Hospital. A co-winner of the Pyne Prize, she described the experience of minority students at Princeton in her remarks at Alumni Day in 1976: “We are attempting to exist distinctly within the rich Princeton tradition, without the tension of having our identities constantly challenged and without the frustrations of isolation.” She told the New York Daily News that Princeton was the “single most growing event of my life.” 

Sotomayor went on to Yale Law School, where she was editor of the law journal. She worked for five years as an assistant district attorney in the office of Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau. In 1984 she joined the private law firm of Pavia & Harcourt, specializing in commercial litigation. As a judge, perhaps her best-known ruling came in 1995, when she ended a lengthy baseball strike by issuing an injunction against the owners of Major League Baseball teams that prevented them from imposing contract terms for the ’95 season. Said the University in awarding its honorary degree to Sotomayor: “In a matter of hours, she unraveled a Gordian knot that had held baseball hostage for more than 230 days.”

If confirmed, Sotomayor would become the second Princeton graduate currently serving on the Supreme Court. Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. ’72 joined the court Jan. 31, 2006.