Federal Judge Sonia Sotomayor knew she wanted to go into law from an early age. As a child, she aspired to be like Nancy Drew, the detective in the popular children’s mystery series. But at the age of 8, she was diagnosed with diabetes and told she would not be able to pursue that line of work. Sotomayor said it was another fictional character that inspired her next choice. “I noticed that [defense attorney] Perry Mason was involved in a lot of the same kinds of investigative work that I had been fascinated with reading Nancy Drew, so I decided to become a lawyer,” Sotomayor told the American Bar Association publication in 2000. “Once I focused on becoming a lawyer, I never deviated from that goal.”
Sotomayor’s parents came to New York from Puerto Rico during World War II. Her father who had a 3rd Grade education worked in a factory and didn’t speak English. She was born in the Bronx and grew up in a public housing project, not too far from the stadium of her favorite team — the New York Yankees. Her father died when she was 9, leaving her mother to raise her and her younger brother on her own. Her mother, whom Sotomayor describes as her biggest inspiration, worked six days a week to care for her and her younger brother, and instilled in them the value of an education. Sotomayor later graduated summa cum laude (and at the top of her class) from Princeton University and went on to attend Yale law school, where she was editor of the Yale Law Journal.
In her three-decade career, she has worked at nearly every level of the judicial system, and on Tuesday she became President Obama’s pick to replace retiring Justice David Souter on the Supreme Court. Sotomayor thanked Obama for “the most humbling honor of my life.” “I hope that as the Senate and American people learn more about me, they will see that I am an ordinary person who has been blessed with extraordinary opportunities and experiences. Today is one of those experiences,” she said. The 54-year-old judge, if confirmed, would become the first Hispanic to serve on the high court. She would also be the third female named to the U.S. Supreme Court, and the second on the current court. Sotomayor is touted by supporters as a justice with bipartisan favor and historic appeal. She currently serves as a judge on the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The liberal-leaning justice was named a district judge by President George H.W. Bush in 1992 and was elevated to her current seat by President Clinton.
Sotomayor presided over about 450 cases while on the district court. Prior to her judicial appointments, Sotomayor was a partner at a private law firm and spent time as an assistant district attorney prosecuting violent crimes. Obama has said he hopes confirmation hearings will be held in July, with the confirmation completed before Congress leaves for the summer. Sotomayor was confirmed to her current seat by the Senate in 1998, a process that took more than a year. The final vote was 67-29. Though a majority of Senate Republicans opposed her nomination, she did win several key Republican votes that year, which could prove critical in this year’s confirmation fight.