Princeton alumna, trustee nominated to Supreme Court


Sonia Sotomayor

Princeton alumna and trustee Sonia Sotomayor has been nominated by President Barack Obama to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. If confirmed, she would be the court's first Latina justice.

She currently sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit.

"What Sonia will bring to the court is not only the knowledge and experience acquired over the course of a brilliant legal career, but the wisdom accumulated from an inspiring life's journey," Obama said in announcing her nomination May 26 at the White House.

Princeton President Shirley M. Tilghman said, "We are proud and delighted that Sonia Sotomayor has been nominated for the Supreme Court. As an undergraduate, Sonia was an excellent student and an exemplary University citizen, graduating summa cum laude and earning the highest award we confer for her strength of character and leadership. Eight years ago we presented her with an honorary degree and two years ago she became a Princeton trustee. She has brought to that role the same kind of insight, discernment, wisdom and good judgment that we are confident she will bring to the deliberations of the highest court in the land." 

Sotomayor earned an A.B. with highest honors in history from Princeton in 1976. She also received the Pyne Prize, the highest general distinction conferred on an undergraduate, which is awarded to the senior who has most clearly manifested excellent scholarship, strength of character and effective leadership.

"The history department takes a great deal of pride that one of its alumni has been nominated for justice of the Supreme Court," said William Jordan, chair of Princeton's history department.

Sotomayor was presented with an honorary doctor of laws degree by the University in 2001 for her "wisdom and judgment that cross cultural boundaries." In 2007, she was elected to a four-year term on the Board of Trustees.

Sotomayor grew up in the Bronx and, after graduating from Princeton, attended Yale Law School, where she was editor of the Yale Law Journal. She began her legal career as an assistant district attorney with the New York County district attorney's office. In 1984 she joined the law firm of Pavia & Harcourt, and became a partner with a focus on international commercial litigation and arbitration of commercial and commodity export trading cases.

Sotomayor was appointed a U.S. District Court judge for the Southern District of New York in 1992 and was confirmed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in 1998. Her decisions include a 1995 injunction that ended an impasse between baseball owners and players, a reinterpretation of copyright law in the context of new media, and rulings in favor of public access to private information and in defense of religious freedom.

If confirmed by the Senate to fill the seat held by retiring Justice David Souter, Sotomayor would be the 11th Princetonian and first female graduate to serve on the Supreme Court. Her appointment also would mark the first time two Princeton alumni have served together on the court since 1860. Other Princeton alumni who have served on the court and the dates of their service are:

• William Paterson, a member of the class of 1763, from 1793 to 1806.
• Oliver Ellsworth, a member of the class of 1766, from 1796 to 1800 (served as chief justice).
• William Johnson Jr., a member of the class of 1790, from 1804 to 1834.
• (Henry) Brockholst Livingston, a member of the class of 1774, from 1806 to 1823.
• Smith Thompson, a member of the class of 1788, from 1823 to 1843.
• Peter Daniel, a member of the class of 1805, from 1842 to 1860.
• James Moore Wayne, a member of the class of 1808, from 1835 to 1867.
• Mahlon Pitney, a member of the class of 1879, from 1912 to 1922.
• John Marshall Harlan, a member of the class of 1920, from 1955 to 1971.
• Samuel Alito Jr., a member of the class of 1972, from 2006 to the present.