7 Facts About Sonia Sotomayor You'll Be Actually Surprised To Learn
You may know the Supreme Court justices mostly as people in black robes, handing down major (and minor) decisions about how the laws in the country actually work. But they're people, too, and people have birthdays — and it just so happens that Monday, June 25, is Sonia Sotomayor's 64th. So, let's take that as an occasion to learn some facts about Sonia Sotomayor that you probably didn't already know.
When President Obama nominated Sotomayor to the Supreme Court in 2009 — his first nomination to the highest court — there was a lot of discussion over the fact that she was only the third woman ever nominated to the court and that she would become the first Latino justice in American history, as the Washington Post reported at the time. However, the course that her life took to get her to that point is also worth learning about. As she wrote in her memoirs published in 2013 and USA Today summarized, Sotomayor aims to be an imperfect role model for those who have had imperfect lives.
"What I wanted to provide people with — people who face challenges similar to my own — is an actual, living example of a person just like that," Sotomayor wrote. Here then, are some of the challenges she faced, accomplishments she has under her belt, and inspirations that got her there.
1. She Wanted To Be Nancy Drew
According to an interview she gave with NPR, one of Sotomayor's main inspirations as a kid was fictional star detective Nancy Drew.
"I traveled the world through books. And even to this day, if I'm feeling down about anything, I pick up a book and I just read," Sotomayor told NPR. "[Nancy Drew] had character, and she had courage."
2. 'Perry Mason' Inspired Her To Be A Judge
According to Biography.com, there was a specific moment when Sotomayor decided that she was going to be a judge, and it happened while she was watching Perry Mason, a legal drama from the 1950s and 1960s.
She watched as a prosecutor said that he didn't mind losing if the defendant was actually innocent, and then she realized that "if that was the prosecutor's job, then the guy who made the decision to dismiss the case was the judge. That was what I was going to be."
3. She Has Had Diabetes Since She Was 8
Sotomayor overcame a lot to become a Supreme Court justice, and one of those challenges was health-related (and is still ongoing). USA Today wrote that she was diagnosed with diabetes at the age of 8, and that diagnosis carried enormous importance for her, not only as the reason why she chose not to have children, but also as "an important motivation for how I've lived my life."
"I savor life," she wrote in her memoir, My Beloved World. "When you have anything that threatens life … it prods you into stepping back and really appreciating the value of life and taking from it what you can."
4. Poverty & Addiction Shaped Her Childhood
According to USA Today, Sotomayor's parents, immigrants from Puerto Rico, came from very modest means — and the pocket strings got especially tight when her father died when she was only nine after a battle with alcoholism. Her cousin also died because of a drug addiction, and she used to smoke more than three packs a day.
USA Today wrote that Sotomayor spent her youth in housing projects in the South Bronx, but her determination and her mother's insistence on education eventually landed her at Princeton.
5. Her First Judicial Nomination Came From A Republican
According to CNN, Sotomayor spent the first 13 years of her legal career as a lawyer in first the public and then the private sector. In 1992, then, she received her first judicial appointment from the president, to the US District Court in the Southern District of New York.
The president at that time wasn't a Democrat, however — it was the final year of George H.W. Bush's term.
6. She's Always Pushed Against Racial Bias
According to a profile in Newsweek, Sotomayor didn't run into outright racism at Princeton, but her time at the school did lead her to become very aware of both her own identity and the presence of subtle biases.
This, Newsweek wrote, was the beginning of her continuous drive to push back against racial discrimination — which she still continues to do now, as you can see in her dissent to the Court's June 25 decision about a racial gerrymandering case in Texas.
7. She Loves Baseball
Despite the nature of her job, Sotomayor doesn't spend all of her time developing legal arguments. By many accounts, Sotomayor has had a huge appreciation for the national pastime since her childhood. In 2009, she even threw out the first pitch at a Yankees game as part of their celebration in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month.
Clearly, Sotomayor is more than just a woman in a black robe. She's a role model and an important part of the nation's history.