The Supreme Court may soon have an honorary Brooklyn Law School Doctor of Laws degree holder now that President Obama has nominated Judge Sonia Sotomayor of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals to replace Justice David Souter. In 2001, Dean Joan G. Wexler presented Judge Sotomayor with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree before the 454 graduates and the entire BLS community at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center when Judge Sotomayor delivered the commencement address at Brooklyn Law School’s Centennial Commencement. Championing the value of pro bono work, Judge Sotomayor encouraged the graduates to dedicate part of their careers to public interest law.
Before serving on the Second Circuit bench, Judge Sotomayor served as US District Judge for the Southern District of New York after President George H.W. Bush appointed her in 1992, making her the first Hispanic woman to serve on the federal bench.
Her personal story is a compelling one that offers encouragement and inspiration to aspiring young lawyers. Born in the South Bronx, she was raised in a housing project by her parents who came to New York from Puerto Rico during World War II when her mother served as part of the Women’s Army Corps. Her father was a factory worker with a 3rd-grade education who did not speak English. He passed away when his daughter was nine. Her mother worked six days a week as a nurse to provide for her children. With the support of family, friends, and teachers, Sonia earned scholarships to Princeton, where she graduated at the top of her class, and Yale Law School, where she was an editor of the Yale Law Journal.
The confirmation process will likely see intense scrutiny of Judge Sotomayor’s judicial record. For a review of her record while on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, read the four-part summary of Judge Sotomayor’s opinions in civil cases at Scotusblog here, here, here and here. Opponents of her nomination will likely point to Sototmayor’s concurrence in Ricci v. DeStefano, 530 F.3d 88, the case involving a suit by white and Hispanic firefighters passed over for promotion when the City of New Haven declined to implement the results of a promotion test upon which black firefighters performed disproportionately poorly. A decision by the Supreme Court on its grant of certiorari in the Ricci case is expected soon.
However the argument over Sotomayor’s judicial record unfolds, it is her personal story and character that will likely be the most decisive factor in determining whether the Supreme Court can count a BLS honorary Doctor of Laws degree recipient among its members. The Law School Admission Council, a nonprofit corporation providing admission-related services for legal education institutions and their applicants throughout the world has a video discussing her story as part of their “Believe and Achieve: Latinos and the Law” program that is worth watching.