Tag Archives: advocacy

March 19, 2013: Sotomayor’s Supreme Service

Celebrating Women’s History Month

Justice-Sonia-Sotomayor-263x374An avid reader and stimulated writer, I am appreciating the freshly pressed pages of My Beloved World, (Mi mundo adorado in the simultaneously published Spanish edition), an evocative memoir written by a woman with such a brave soul and a strong frame of mind. Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States Sonia Maria Sotomayor is a rousing example of what can be made of such a distinctive ambition.

The book focuses on her adolescent years through young adult life recalling growing up in housing projects in New York and clear descriptions of the challenges she faced.  In addition, she speaks of her cousin and “soul twin” Nelson, who was a heroin addict and unfortunately died of AIDS from using needles.  Strangely [and however divine], he contributed to who she has become today – a powerhouse advocate for all things ethical, a dedicated service-woman and a friend of the people.

The New York Times describes it as “a compelling and powerfully written memoir about identity and coming of age. … It’s an eloquent and affecting testament to the triumph of brains and hard work over circumstance, of a childhood dream realized through extraordinary will and dedication.”

Born into the “baby boom” era of the 1950’s Sonia Sotomayor was intently focused on becoming someone other than a girl from the deep projects of the South Bronx.  The childhood she candidly expounds on in her narrative My Beloved World, includes dialogue about her father, Juan, an alcoholic who died when she was nine years old and her mother, Celina, who was dysfunctional and emotionally reserved but loved and raised her alone thereafter. Both parents were native Puerto Ricans. Her mother struggled as an orphan, then as a single-parent, and migrated to New York after World War II.  She later went to live with her grandmother of whom she says she felt closest to and the source that ultimately gave her a sense of protection and purpose, though she credited her mother with being her “life inspiration.” Her shared passage on each page, leave the reader not only intrigued, but also grasping onto every word, awaiting the affirmative redemption that is to follow.

Diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at the age of seven, Sotomayor had to circumstantially learn how to sterilize needles and administer her own insulin injections. Unusual to the effects that a traumatizing disease or condition could leave any child to yield to, diabetes played a contrary role in Sonia’s life. It didn’t disable her; it enabled her to awaken the giant she always knew she had within. Holding on to a strong desire to be a lawyer at the age of only 10, she wanted to dream more, do more and become more; and so she did.

Sotomayor was determined and graduated as valedictorian in 1972 from Cardinal Spellman High School in the Bronx.  She then went on to Princeton University where she graduated summa cum laude and from there, received her J.D. from Yale Law School in 1979, where she was an editor at the Yale Law Journal.  She was admitted to the New York Bar in 1980.  Well on her way to success, her personal journey of self-deliverance, audacity, and hope for change took her from the New York City projects all the way to the United States Supreme Court. Today, she is number 111 worldwide, the third female ever, and the first Latina Supreme Court Justice of the United States.

Inspired by both the book character Nancy Drew and the television detective on the legal drama, Perry Mason, Sotomayor has become all that she knew she could be; but she never imagined she’d come so far, change so much in the world, and be the prevalent voice of rationalization.  It was at Yale Law School that she began cultivating her particular blend of embracing the cause of the disadvantaged while earning the respect of the established hierarchy.  An opinionated lobbyist, Sotomayor is one of few Latinos to ever gain a full scholarship to both Princeton University and Yale Law School.  She put in long hours, summer nights, and an unyielding commitment to excel.

She quotes, “Life can be hard, whether you lose a parent or lose a friend when you’re young or you suffer diabetes or sometimes kids have cancer. Or sometimes you have a parent who can’t be giving to you the way you would want. So many kids have these moments and sometimes it seems overwhelming…but it doesn’t have to stop you from having a full, rich life. You just have to work to get past it.”

From public speaking to the debate club, the governance board of Princeton’s Third World Center to volunteering as an interpreter for Latino patients at the Trenton Psychiatric Hospital, to being the winner of the Pyne Prize, the top award for undergraduates which reflected both strong grades and extracurricular activities, Sotomayor was and is an over-achiever of our time.  From grammar school to the Washington office she presently holds, she values education and equal rights for all people.

An activist for diversity and catalyst for change, this fearless and effective prosecutor has traveled many the miles – not by way of train or bus, but by means of hard work, fortitude, and a purpose-driven life.  Over the years, her visible public service roles have aided in the reconstructive developments of neighborhoods across America, beginning with her very own familiar in the Bronx.  From her informal solo practice located in her Brooklyn apartment to the commercial litigation practice group in Manhattan, she performed legal consulting work, intellectual property litigation and international law.  She stated, “I wanted to complete myself as an attorney.”

A well-prepared trial judge, she gained a reputation for moving cases along on a tight schedule and being detail-oriented.  Some legal experts have said that Sotomayor’s attention to detail and re-examination of the facts of a case came close to overstepping the traditional role of appellate judges.  Her vigorous and blunt behavior toward lawyers appealing before her was sometimes to the point of brusque and curt treatment or testy interruptions.

She has served and advocated in rulings from Abortion, Business, First Amendment rights, Alcohol in commerce, Civil rights, Property Rights to much more.  A powerhouse Super Star, Sotomayor received law degrees from Lehman College, Princeton University, Brooklyn Law School, Pace University School of Law, Hofstra University, Northeastern University School of Law, Howard University, St. Lawrence University and New York University.

Amongst her countless accomplishments, Sonia Sotomayor has been graced by many Presidents beginning with President George H. W. Bush, who nominated her to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in 1991. In 1997, she was nominated by President Bill Clinton to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, where she had an opportunity to hear the appeals of more than 3,000 cases. Winning the praise from Democrats and liberals alike, Sotomayor was nominated by President Obama on May 26, 2009.  She became only the second jurist to be nominated to three different judicial positions by three different Presidents.  Since then, Sotomayor has been a reliable member of the liberal bloc when justices divide along the commonly perceived ideological lines.

Historically, Sotomayor is the second former resident of New York to have a housing development named after her.  The Bronxdale Houses development where she grew up, was renamed to the Justice Sonia Sotomayor Houses and Justice Sonia Sotomayor Community Center in 2010. Collectively, these developments are comprised of 28 buildings with some 3,500 residents.

A woman of prolific words and continuous action, Sotomayor has given over 180 speeches, many of which have focused on issues of ethnic identity, gender equality, diversity, or were delivered to minority or women’s groups. She has made history in the eyes of many not just for Latino Americans, but for women around the world.

Sometimes, our passion is our purpose. Thank you Sonia Sotomayor for being the change you wish to see in this world.

Love and Light for your Tuesday!