Justice Sotomayor was born in the Bronx, New York, the state from which she would be appointed to the Supreme Court of the United States. She displayed enormous intellectual talent from a young age, eventually overcoming the disadvantages of her background to earn her way into Princeton University, which she graduated summa cum laude from in 1976 with a B.A. Justice Sotomayor later then enrolled at Yale Law School, graduating with a J.D. in 1979.
Justice Sotomayor then jumped into the high-stakes world of criminal prosecution, becoming an Assistant District Attorney in New York County (Manhattan), New York the same year as her graduation from law school. She left that position after five years, but remained in her home city of New York as she pursued a distinguished career in private practice. In 1992, Justice Sotomayor’s service in the federal judiciary began with her appointment to be a Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York by President George H.W. Bush (and subsequent confirmation by the United States Senate), which was done as part of a deal between him and New York’s well known United States Senator at the time, Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Six years later, she was promoted to Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit by President William J. Clinton (again receiving U.S. Senate confirmation), where she would remain until her elevation to the SCUS.
Justice Sotomayor was nominated by President Barack Obama on June 1, 2009, to a seat vacated by Justice David H. Souter. She was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on August 6, 2009, and received her commission that day. Justice Sotomayor took the Judicial Oath to officially join the SCUS on August 8, and has served her entire tenure on the Roberts Court. She is the eighth most senior Member of the SCUS today, and is an actively serving Justice.
Throughout her first half-decade as a member of the SCUS, Justice Sotomayor’s articulated judicial philosophy has placed her firmly in the left wing of the Court. Her tenure so far suggests that she is following in the footsteps of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in terms of legal ideology, in contrast with fellow Obama-appointee Justice Elena Kagan, who has been hewing closer to Justice Stephen Breyer’s way of thinking (at least in some instances). While Justice Sotomayor is a more junior member of the SCUS right now, she has the potential to become perhaps the most powerful Justice on the bench in the next decade, depending on who is elected President in 2016 and 2020 and which of her colleagues decide to retire in the coming years. There are currently four Justices who are 75 years of age or older, Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Ginsburg and Breyer. If just one of the Republican-appointees among this number were to retire under a Democratic President, like former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is widely expected to run in 2016, then the entire SCUS’s ideological balance would completely reverse, with the liberal wing suddenly seizing control of the Court’s agenda and precedent-setting powers. Were this to happen, coupled with the retirement of the two President Clinton-appointees currently serving (both of whom are among the 75-years-or-over Justices), then Justice Sotomayor would become the most senior member of a newly-dominant liberal block, with enormous influence over opinion-writing when the SCUS breaks down along its now Democratic-friendly 5-to-4 ideological split (which would actually be a 6-to-3 division along those lines if both Justices Scalia and Kennedy retired during a Democratic presidency).