Justice Sonia Sotomayor

Justice Sonia Sotomayor joined the U.S. Supreme Court on August 8, 2009, replacing Justice David Souter. Sotomayor made history for being the first Hispanic and the first woman of color to reach the Supreme Court. She was born in New York City on June 25, 1954 to parents who had come to the mainland U.S. from Puerto Rico. Sotomayor graduated as the valedictorian of both her middle school and her high school. She continued her academic achievement by graduating summa cum laude from Princeton University in 1976, majoring in history. In 1979, Sotomayor received her law degree from Yale Law School, where she was an editor of the Yale Law Journal.

Over the next few years, Sotomayor worked as an assistant district attorney in New York County (Manhattan) before joining a private law firm in 1984. She also served on the State of New York Mortgage Agency and the New York City Campaign Finance Board in the late 1980s and early 1990s, among other government positions. In November 1991, President George H.W. Bush nominated Sotomayor to fill a vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. The U.S. Senate unanimously confirmed her for this seat in August 1992, which made her the first Hispanic judge in a federal court in New York State and the first female Puerto Rican judge in any federal court. To the delight of baseball fans across America, Sotomayor issued a ruling in 1995 that ended a Major League Baseball strike.

In June 1997, President Bill Clinton nominated Sotomayor to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which had upheld her ruling in the baseball case. Sotomayor went through her confirmation hearings in September of that year but was not approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee until March 1998. The Senate confirmed her in October. Sotomayor wrote nearly 400 majority opinions for the Second Circuit over the next decade.

Democrat President Barack Obama nominated Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court on June 1, 2009. She went through her confirmation hearings in July, and the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 13-6 in her favor on July 28. Sotomayor was confirmed by the Senate by a 68-31 vote on August 6. She took the constitutional oath of office and the judicial oath of office at a single ceremony two days later. The first case for which Sotomayor heard oral arguments was the landmark First Amendment and campaign finance case Citizens United v. FEC. A majority of the Court endorsed the free speech rights of corporations, but Sotomayor dissented.

Echoing her predecessor Souter, Sotomayor generally takes a liberal position on controversial topics. This contrasts with the other Catholic Justices on the Court. Analysts have likened her to Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer. In an era when conservatives dominate the Court, Sotomayor has written some scathing dissents. Despite her service as a prosecutor, she often has advocated vigorously for the rights of suspects and defendants. Sotomayor has administered the oath of office to two vice presidents:  Joseph Biden in 2013 and Kamala Harris in 2021.

Selected Opinions by Justice Sotomayor:

National Rifle Association of America v. Vullo (2024)

Topic: Free Speech

The First Amendment prohibits government officials from wielding their power selectively to punish or suppress speech, including through private intermediaries.

Wilkinson v. Garland (2024)

Topic: Immigration & National Security

A federal appeals court may review a hardship determination by an immigration judge deciding whether a non-citizen is eligible for cancellation of removal and adjustment to lawful permanent resident status.

Andy Warhol Foundation for Visual Arts, Inc. v. Goldsmith (2023)

Topic: Copyrights

If an original work and secondary use share the same or highly similar purposes, and the secondary use is commercial, the first fair use factor is likely to weigh against fair use, absent some other justification for copying.

Johnson v. Arteaga-Martinez (2022)

Topic: Immigration & National Security

The government is not required to provide foreign nationals detained for six months with bond hearings in which the government bears the burden of proving, by clear and convincing evidence, that a foreign national poses a flight risk or a danger to the community.

City of Austin v. Reagan National Advertising of Austin (2022)

Topic: Free Speech

A distinction between on-premises and off-premises signs was facially content neutral under the First Amendment and thus not subject to strict scrutiny.

Salinas v. Railroad Retirement Board (2021)

Topic: Government Agencies

An agency refusal to reopen a prior benefits determination was subject to judicial review.

Lucky Brand Dungarees, Inc. v. Marcel Fashions Group, Inc. (2020)

Topic: Lawsuits & Legal Procedures

Any preclusion of defenses must, at a minimum, satisfy the strictures of issue preclusion or claim preclusion.

Collins v. Virginia (2018)

Topic: Search & Seizure

The automobile exception does not permit the warrantless entry of a home or its curtilage to search a vehicle therein.

Samsung Electronics Co. v. Apple, Inc. (2016)

Topic: Patents

In the case of a multicomponent product, the relevant “article of manufacture” for arriving at a damages award in a patent infringement case need not be the end product sold to the consumer but may be only a component of that product.

Perez v. Mortgage Bankers Ass'n (2015)

Topic: Government Agencies

Since an agency is not required to use notice-and-comment procedures to issue an initial interpretive rule, it is also not required to use those procedures to amend or repeal that rule.

Lane v. Franks (2014)

Topic: Labor & Employment; Free Speech

A public employee's sworn testimony outside the scope of their ordinary job duties is entitled to First Amendment protection.

Microsoft Corp. v. i4i Limited Partnership (2011)

Topic: Patents

An alleged infringer must prove a patent invalidity defense by clear and convincing evidence.

J.D.B. v. North Carolina (2011)

Topic: Miranda Rights

The age of a child is relevant to the determination of whether they are in police custody for Miranda purposes.

Michigan v. Bryant (2011)

Topic: Criminal Trials & Prosecutions

An identification and description of a shooter and the location of a shooting were not testimonial statements for Confrontation Clause purposes because they had a primary purpose to enable police assistance to meet an ongoing emergency.