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“Even though I was born and grew up in New York City, español, Spanish, was the language we spoke at home–– the language of Puerto Rico, the island where my family came from” – Sonia Sotomayor.

Growing up as a Hispanic woman in San Antonio, Texas, I don’t think that I ever truly understood what it meant to be a minority. Most of my friends were Hispanic and so was the rest of my family. It wasn’t until my older sister, Kimberly, pursued her bachelor’s degree that I learned that we were not like everyone else. Both first-generation students, my sister was eleven years older than me, we did not know what to expect when entering a college environment. Because we grew up in an upper-middle class neighborhood, it was practically decided that we were set to attend a four-year university, not by our parents, but more so by our peers and their parents. I asked my sister how it felt when Justice Sotomayor was chosen to sit on the nation’s highest court, and I found her experience to be extremely insightful, especially because this was only twelve years ago, when my sister was as old as I am now. My sister explained “It was an empowerment like none other. When entering college I realized just how many women with the same cultural identification as us are setup for failure, but Justice Sotomayor’s nomination was a monumental precedent for Hispanic women everywhere, no matter where you grew up.” I personally remember being only nine-years old at the time, and the secretary at my elementary school would always mispronounce my last name on the intercom. She always said “Sotomayor” instead of “Sultemeier,” and I always felt a rush of pleasure, pride, and satisfaction for someone to confuse my name with the first Hispanic Justice on the Supreme Court. Growing up in a Mexican household with a German-American last name, I always had a hard time identifying with my cultural identity. I felt like I lacked the namesake connection with my ethnic roots like my friends had the chance to experience, so a sense of joy always sparked in my heart when my last name was mispronounced. I am truly thankful for thank for Justice Sonia Sotomayor raising the bar so high for possibilities in my own life. Not only did she become my role model, but she serves as a role model for children everywhere, as she explains through her children’s literature.

Front Cover of Turning Pages by Sonia Sotomayor. | Courtesy of Barnes and Noble

Justice Sotomayor begins her children’s book with the introduction of her cultural background that sets her apart from many of the inhabitants of New York City. Serving as the first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice, and only the third woman to serve on the Court, she wrote “Turning Pages” with an integration of English and Spanish to tell her life story through a beautifully illustrated children’s book.1 The story tells about her struggle with diabetes, her love for reading and education, and her journey to higher education and her dream appointment to the Supreme Court. She explains that she had an extremely hard time learning English because the culture in her home life favored Spanish. However, reading became an important aspect of her journey. Books were her gateway to learning English, and something that actually made learning fun. She explains the importance of literature in her life and how it was related to the generational stories told by her grandparents. “My first memory of the power of words came from Abuelita, my beloved grandmother.” She tells a beautiful memory from her childhood and how after their dinner celebration, her Abuelita would recite old poems about the life that the family had left in Puerto Rico. This form of literature served a much greater purpose than poetry, they were memories from a home that they used to know. Justice Sotomayor describes words as “electrical currents that jolted feelings to life.” This passion for reading played a major role in her decision to study law later in her life. By age 10, she was positive that she wanted to attend college to become an attorney.2 After realizing that the law was one of her favorite pastimes, she grew an interest in true crime literature.

1961: Sotomayor and her younger brother, Juan Jr., with their parents. | Courtesy of

Justice Sotomayor mentions that she wrote Turning Pages in order to inspire young women, especially minorities, to always follow their dreams. In her book, “My Beloved World,” she discusses the conditions in which she was raised growing up in a Bronx housing project, and losing her father due to a long battle with his addiction to alcohol.3 She explains that she often wanted to ask her father why he couldn’t stop drinking for the love of his daughter, but she knew that alcoholism had already taken over his life. After the death of her father in 1963, Sonia and her younger brother, Juan, only had their mother. She explains that there were often stages of neglect entangled with the difficult relationship that they faced through their most influential years. Naturally, she knew that her mother’s behavior stemmed from her grievances against her children’s father, and while the circumstances were harsh, her mother was one of the greatest prizes that she has been given in her lifetime.

Through her love for reading she found a joy in learning about the law. She attributed this to her two favorite sources: Nancy Drew and Perry Mason. She says that it was within an episode of Perry Mason where Perry turned to the judge after the defendant had confessed, and she says that was the moment when she knew that the judge was the most important person in the courtroom. She follows with “I wanted to be that person.”4

Her mother placed a large weight on education for her two children, which was extremely rare for families in the housing project. Sotomayor says that her mother played a major role in the person that she has become today, although she was distant, her choices often influenced Sonia. Justice Sotomayor recalls, “For my mother, education has always been the top priority in all of our lives. It was because of her that we were the only kids I knew in the housing projects to have an Encyclopedia Britannica.” Sotomayor grew up working at a retail store and a hospital to help provide for her mother’s education to get a better paying job. After her mother became as RN, Sotomayor attended high school, where she was accepted into an upper level college prep school called Cardinal Spellman High School. She served in many student organizations until she graduated as the class valedictorian in 1972. During the course of her high school education, crime increased in the project housing in which her family lived with growing gang activity and heroin use, so her mother made the decision to relocate the family.5

Justice Sotomayor was able to attend Princeton University on a full scholarship, and explained that her admission was thanks to affirmative action.6 She later explained the importance of affirmative action in universities, stating that “its purpose is to create the conditions whereby students from disadvantaged backgrounds could be brought to the starting line of a race many were unaware was even being run.” Princeton played a large role in her life, especially because Sotomayor was raised in the bubble that she knew as the Bronx. After assimilating to the culture at Princeton, Sotomayor was very successful and graduated summa cum laude in 1976. Sotomayor then entered into the Yale Law class of 1979, again attributing this achievement to affirmative action with a scholarship.

After working for years in private practice, Sonia was approached to become a Federal District Judge, then a Court of Appeals Judge, until 2008. Once President Obama won the 2008 election, there were speculations surrounding whether Sotomayor would be a good selection for the Supreme Court. The two New York Senators immediately wrote President Obama, and mentioned that should a seat become available on the Supreme Court, Judge Sonia Sotomayor was the most deserving possible nominee. After Souter’s retirement in 2009, President Obama approached Sotomayor and extended his offer. Sotomayor explained, “I had my hand over my chest, trying to calm my beating heart, literally.”

Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., administering Constitutional Oath to Justice Sotomayor in the Justices’ Conference Room on Saturday August 8, 2009. Mrs. Celina Sotomayor (mother) | Courtesy of The White House

There were several waves of controversy that surrounded the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor for the open seat on the Supreme Court. Most of the opposition came from conservatives and several Republican Senators who had issues with the comments the she had previously made, pertaining to a speech she gave “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white man who hasn’t lived that life.” From this, speculations of racism arose. Many claims that she was too problematic to be placed on the highest court. The Republicans went after several previous decisions that she made in prior cases regarding gun rights and racial discrimination.4 Sonia has made her positions very clear. She was often found in the same partisan category as the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, qualifying as one, if not the most, liberal justice on the Supreme Court. Speaking in terms of issues today and the environment of the Supreme Court, she is the most leftist justice. Often cited is her notable opinion in the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores 573 US 682 (2014) case which assesses the constitutionality of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. Hobby Lobby is a family owned craft store chain that is operated based on the principles of Christian faith. In this case, Hobby Lobby did not want to extend certain provisions under the Affordable Care Act to its female employees’ health insurance benefits, refusing to cover any forms of contraceptives because the business considered them to be forms of abortion. Hobby Lobby stores extended this belief to claim that they would not be associated with contribution to such acts. While this was allowed for religious employers and non-profits, this exemption did not extent to the for-profit industry.  In a 5-4 decision, the conservative block voted in favor of Hobby Lobby, stating that businesses who have five or fewer stockholders for over 50% of the company could run their businesses in this manner. They also went on to state that businesses possess corporate personhood, meaning that they are allowed to maintain the same views as an actual human being. The five justices who voted in favor of Hobby Lobby claimed that it would be unconstitutional to force the family-owned business to provide access to such contraceptives.8

Justice Sotomayor joined Justice Ginsburg in their dissent. Their dissenting opinion argued that the business’s religious beliefs cannot impinge on any third parties, which would be the Hobby Lobby female employees’ rights in this scenario. Aside from this case, Sonia Sotomayor has inserted her extremely powerful opinion in several other cases. She feels very strongly about her pro-choice views, affirmative action, gun control, and more. She utilizes her platform in order to reach young Latina women to pursue and achieve their wildest dreams. Her role on the Supreme Court is especially crucial today given the circumstances of the Supreme Court. Considering the recently appointed Justice Amy Coney Barrett, Justice Sotomayor and Justice Kagan serve as half of the remaining liberal justices. Speculations of overturning major cases, even super precedents, like Roe v. Wade are possible and their opinions will matter more than ever, even if only in dissent. We have learned, Justice Sotomayor will never go down without fighting for justice and the protection of rights for all.9


  1. Sonia Sotomayor and Lulu Delacre, Turning Pages: My Life Story, (New York, NY: Philomel Books, 2018).
  2. Academy of Achievement. “Sonia Sotomayor Biography: The Power of Words — Academy of Achievement.” Last modified September 24, 2020. Accessed November 10, 2020.
  3. Sonia Sotomayor, The Beloved World of Sonia Sotomayor, First edition. Delacorte Press, 2018.
  4. History, “Sonia Sotomayor is sworn in as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court — History.” Last modified August 5, 2020. Accessed November 10, 2020.
  5. Lisa Lucas and David Saltonstall, “Sonia Sotomayor’s Mother Tells News: I Overcame Odds to Raise U.S. Supreme Court Pick,” January 10, 2019, Accessed November 10, 2020,
  6. Barnes, Robert. “Justice Sonia Sotomayor Defends Affirmative Action.” The Washington Post. WP Company, June 22, 2014.
  7. History, “Sonia Sotomayor is sworn in as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court — History.” Last modified August 5, 2020. Accessed November 10, 2020.
  8. Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores 573 US Supreme Court 682 (2014).
  9. United Nations, “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” Official Website of the United Nations, , accessed December 2, 2020.

Kayla Sultemeier

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Recent Comments


  • Victoria Cantu

    Justice Sonia Sotomayor has always made such an impact in my life, knowing the challenges she faced and seeing how she made her dreams a reality truly pushes me to strive for not only myself, but for other Latina’s across the country. As a first generation Latina who is striving to become an attorney, reading about how Justice Sotomayor always had the passion to pursue a career in becoming a judge is extremely motivating. If you come from a hispanic household you most likely know that going to school and pursuing an education is not very encouraged and difficult since there’s no guidance or income. Reading how Justice Sotomayor was driven to complete her mission and did not let any circumstance stop her is what gives me strength for today and tomorrow. Sonia Sotomayor is truly the definition of a luchista and has made her mark on the world.

  • Hali Garcia

    Justice Sotomayor is truly an inspiration for young Latina women. I remember when she was appointed to the Supreme Court and my grandmother calling me over to watch because it was such a big moment for us. I love how her mother really emphasized the importance of education and how she knew she wanted to be an attorney from the age of 10. I really admire her determination and am truly grateful for everything she has done.

  • Haley Ticas

    Hi Kayla! I really enjoyed reading your article on Justice Sotomayor. She has always been an inspiration to me and I understand completely how you and your sister felt about her being an “empowerment.” I especially liked the structure and development of this article. You began by adding a personal touch to this article and how it related to you personally and to your culture. You then went on to describing her background and her importance. This was truly great read and informative topic. Great job!

  • Allison Grijalva

    Hi Kayla! I really enjoyed your article about Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. I have loved learning about her in my own spare time since high school, and learned a lot from this article. Her passion for inspiring minority women and young girls is such an important one, and something I relate to greatly. She faced so much discrimination as a women of color in her field, and worked extra hard to prove herself. Simple things like people not being able to pronounce her last name, or even making the effort to learn correct pronunciation, is something I imagine to be very frustrating. She is one of my own greatest inspirations as a young Hispanic woman myself. Great job!

  • Andrea Laguna

    Loved this article! I’ve read about Sonia Sotomayor before. She is a really impressive women. She fought for her dream and didn’t let her ethnicity define her or what she is able to do. I love how the author offered background information about her and how she developed to be a voice in America. Excellent job!

  • Soleil Armijo

    I really enjoyed this article! I admire Justice Sotomayor a lot and her story is inspiring especially as a Latina aspiring to attend law school I find her story to be a motivator. It makes me proud to know there is a strong, opinionated women in such an honorable place of power. I also find it extremely helpful that she is a force to be reckoned with since there are Justices who seem to care more about corporations rather than people.

  • Rhys Kennedy

    This article told a very unique story, one that I find is often not talked about that much in media despite how impressive Justice Sotomayor’s story and achievements are. Considering when Justice Sotomayor underwent her journey it becomes all the more impressive. Overall this was a very detailed article that told a very important story.

  • Nathaniel Tran

    This article just made me so happy as, although I am not Hispanic, I thought that Justice Sotomayor brought a lot of representation amongst Hispanics in the court system. I think she would be able to add more perspective to the supreme justices as well. Not only that she is a strong woman who just has to be admired for what she has done.

  • Andrea Salas

    Hi! This is a great article, because it’s very inspiring. It’s crazy to know that based on your gender and ethnicity, you are automatically set for failure. I agree with you that Justice Sonia set the bar high for us. She showed us that we can do it. Doesn’t matter what color your skin is and what gender you are, you just have to work hard. She is very inspirational and she wanted to inspire many people with her children’s book, on which she accomplish. You did veery well in writing about her background and how she got to being in the Supreme Court Justice.

  • Maria Ferrer

    This article is truly an inspiration for many Hispanic Women. It takes people like Sonia Sotomayor to help young women realize that their dreams can be more than just dreams. There are going to be some obstacles during the way and people are always going to be trying to bring you down, therefore hard work and discipline are going to help people prove them wrong but most importantly yourself. Sotomayor accomplished many things in her life, for instance she was able to attend prestigious universities such as Princeton and Yale, and currently holds the position of Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. She was able to do things because she never gave up, despite her background.

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