A photo caption with the continuation this article about Judge Sonia Sotomayor incorrectly identified her father as Omar Lopez. Lopez is her stepfather; her father was Juan Luis Sotomayor.
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Sotomayor Has Said Gender and Ethnicity 'Make a Difference' in Judging
In her third year of law school, Sotomayor lodged a formal complaint against a Washington law firm that she alleged had asked her discriminatory questions at a recruiting dinner. The firm issued an apology.
Passion for 'Law and Order'
Robert Morgenthau, a longtime Manhattan district attorney, said he hired Sotomayor directly out of Yale and she rose rapidly, moving from cases of assault and other misdemeanors to the murders then plaguing New York. Morgenthau described her cases as "nothing extraordinary." In the most prominent, she and another prosecutor won a conviction against the "Tarzan murderer," a man who swung onto the balconies of tenement apartments to rob people and sometimes shoot them.
Warren Murray, who supervised Sotomayor and still works in the prosecutor's office, recalled her zeal for child pornography cases, which were relatively rare in the pre-Internet era. "She was very gung-ho against pedophilia," Murray said.
Peter M. Kougasian, an assistant Manhattan district attorney who worked with Sotomayor and also attended college and law school with her, said she chose to be a prosecutor because she felt a passion "to bring law and order to the streets of New York." He said she never revealed to him her political views.
She left after five years to become an associate, then partner, at a New York law firm, Pavia & Harcourt, where she largely handled cases involving international corporations doing business in the United States.
In 1992, she was nominated by a Republican president, George H.W. Bush, to become a judge on the U.S. District Court in Manhattan. Democrat Bill Clinton chose her as the first Latino on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 2nd District, in New York.
Julia Tarver Mason, who clerked for Sotomayor as a federal district judge in 1996, described her as a "legal purist" who feels strongly about upholding legal precedents when she can find them in the case law. But Mason said Sotomayor's ethnicity "has shaped her values in profound ways."
She can sometimes be sensitive about it. John W. Fried, Sotomayor's first supervisor in the Manhattan prosecutor's office, said she gently corrected him when he mispronounced her name so that it sounded more anglicized.
Laura Murray Tjan, who clerked for Sotomayor on the 2nd Circuit in 1999, said the judge stayed in touch with the legal community in Puerto Rico, vacationed there and had numerous Latino friends. Murray said Sotomayor was not influenced by ideology and rigorously compelled her clerks to follow legal precedents. Several clerks described her as exacting and a perfectionist, sending back briefs to correct spelling and punctuation errors.
Hard to Categorize
In cases on hot-button social and political issues, Sotomayor has been difficult to categorize ideologically, with some rulings that have pleased conservatives and others liberals. She denied a challenge from an abortion rights group to a George W. Bush administration policy that barred U.S. aid to international family-planning groups if they provided or counseled about abortion.
In a significant First Amendment case, Sotomayor dissented from the court majority that held that the New York City Police Department did not violate the rights of an employee when it fired him for sending racist mailings. "I find the speech in this case patently offensive, hateful, and insulting," she wrote in 2002. "The Court should not, however, gloss over three decades of jurisprudence and the centrality of First Amendment freedoms in our lives."
Jeri Faulkner was a freshman of Caribbean descent at Cardinal Spellman when Sotomayor was a senior, and she remembers the older girl as a role model for the few minority students. "I can see her sitting in the cafeteria at a table, leading and being part of discussion, all animated," said Faulkner, now a dean of students at the school. "Sonia burst out of boxes and was never limited by where she came from."