Spring is Supreme Court Season, Part 5

James Wilson, Bushrod Washington, Henry Baldwin, Robert Grier, Edwin Stanton, William Strong, William Woods, Lucius Lamar, Howell Jackson, Rufus Peckham, Horace Lurton, James McReynolds, James F. Byrnes, Wiley Rutledge, Sherman Minton, William Brennan, David Souter, and Sonia Sotomayor

James Wilson, Bushrod Washington, Henry Baldwin, Robert Grier, Edwin Stanton, William Strong, William Woods, Lucius Lamar, Howell Jackson, Rufus Peckham, Horace Lurton, James McReynolds, James F. Byrnes, Wiley Rutledge, Sherman Minton, William Brennan, David Souter, and Sonia Sotomayor

James Wilson (1742-1798) was one of the original members of the Supreme Court. He joined on September 26, 1789, and served until he died.

James Wilson was born to Presbyterian farmers in Scotland and won a scholarship to the University of St. Andrew’s, where he trained to be a minister. He moved to Philadelphia in 1766 and taught at the University of Pennsylvania, where he got an honorary master’s degree. He joined the revolutionary cause, was a Pennsylvanian delegate to the Continental Congress, and signed the Declaration of Independence. A very skilled lawyer, Wilson was one of the most intelligent framers of the Constitution ; he worked on the Constitution’s first draft, and was the one who proposed that slaves should count as three-fifths of a person for congressional representation. (Whoops!)

The Supreme Court only heard nine cases during Wilson’s tenure. At the end of his life he became mired in debt and was briefly in debtor’s prison in New Jersey in 1797. He then suffered malaria before dying of a stroke in North Carolina while visiting a friend.

Wilson was replaced on the Court by Bushrod Washington (1762-1829), who served from December 20, 1798, to his death on November 26, 1829. Bushrod was the nephew of George Washington.

Bushrod Washington was born in northeastern Virginia, the son of George Washington’s brother John. He went to the College of William and Mary and apprenticed law under the abovementioned James Wilson. He then lived and practiced in Richmond until joining the Supreme Court.

Washington was a competent but unremarkable judge. As a Federalist, he tended to side with Chief Justice Marshall. His most important decision was made while on circuit duty, in 1823’s Corfield v. Coryell, wherein Washington established a definition of what the Constitution meant by “privileges and immunities”, concluding that it protected a broad but defined set of “fundamental” rights. More interestingly, despite being a lifelong slave owner, from 1816 to 1829 Washington was president of the American Colonization Society, which founded the country of Liberia as a new homeland for freed slaves.

Washington died in Philadelphia in the fall of 1829 and was buried at George Washington’s country estate at Mount Vernon, Virginia.

Washington was succeeded by Henry Baldwin (1780-1844), who was sworn in on January 6, 1830 and served until he died on April 24, 1844.

Henry Baldwin was born in New Haven, Connecticut, went to Yale and Litchfield Law School, and passed the bar in 1798. He served as a public attorney in western Pennsylvania and was elected to Congress as a Democrat in 1816, serving until 1823. His strong support of Andrew Jackson’s election in 1828 gained him his seat on the Supreme Court.

Baldwin was most notable for his schizophrenic attitude to slavery: while personally finding it “abhorrent”, he regularly instructed juries to respect its legal status. He was a close friend and ally of John Marshall, and was at Marshall’s bedside as he died in 1835.

Baldwin suffered from paralysis and poverty in his old age and died in Washington in the spring of 1844. His remains were later dug up and moved back to Pennsylvania.

John Tyler tried to fill the seat with two Pennsylvania judges, Edward King and John Read, which were rejected. Then the new president, James Polk, attempted to appoint future president James Buchanan, who refused, and Rep. George Washington Woodward, who was rejected. Finally, Robert Grier (1794-1870) took the empty seat on August 4, 1846, and held it until January 1870.

Robert Cooper Grier was born near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and went to Dickinson College, earning his BA in a year and staying as a teacher. He studied law in his free time and passed the bar in 1817. His work in support of Andrew Jackson got him a patronage judgeship in Allegheny County in 1833, in which he served competently for 13 years.

His most important work on the Supreme Court was writing the opinion for the Prize Cases, a collection of four cases in 1863, which found Abraham Lincoln’s order to blockade Southern ports during the Civil War was constitutional. Grier suffered three strokes in 1867 and became very frail, retiring from the bench at the urging of his colleagues in late 1869, with his term officially ending on January 31, 1870. He died that September in Philadelphia.

Ulysses S. Grant wanted to fill Grier’s seat with Edwin Stanton (1814-1869). Edwin McMasters Stanton was born in Steubenville, Ohio, attended Kenyon College, became an abolitionist Democrat, passed the bar in 1836, worked as a federal land claims agent in California, served as Attorney-General in the last four months of the Buchanan administration, became a Republican, and served as Secretary of War through most of the Civil War, from 1862 to 1868. Stanton was at Lincoln’s deathbed, and was the man who said, “Now he belongs to the ages.” When Grant called on him to serve on the Supreme Court, Stanton was dying of asthma. In some strange Make-A-Wish Foundation move, the Senate confirmed Stanton to the Court on December 20, 1869, and Stanton died four days later, on Christmas Eve. Since Stanton never took any oath of office, and his predecessor was still technically holding his seat at the time of Stanton’s confirmation, the official records of the Supreme Court of the United States do not count Edwin Stanton as a justice. He was buried in Washington and in 1871 became the second-ever non-president (after Benjamin Franklin) to appear on a US postage stamp.

William Strong (1808-1895) was appointed to the vacant seat by Ulysses Grant, taking his seat on March 14, 1870 and serving for ten years.

William Strong was born in northern Connecticut and went to Yale before setting up his law practice in Reading, Pennsylvania. He served as an abolitionist Democrat in the US Congress from 1847 to 1851 and as a justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania from 1857 to 1868, at which time he returned to private practice in Philadelphia, now as a Republican.

Strong was an early adopter of the use of the Equal Protection clause in the 14th Amendment, writing the opinion in Strauder v. West Virginia in 1879, which determined people could not be excluded from juries on grounds of race. Significantly, Strong sat on the commission to determine the winner of the 1876 presidential election; like every other Republican on the commission, he found in favour of the Republican and eventual winner, Rutherford Hayes.

Strong quit the bench in 1880 to return to private practice, religious activism, and also to set an example to a number of enfeebled justice who refused to retire. He died at Lake Minnewassa, New York, in the summer of 1895,and was buried in Reading.

Hayes then appointed Civil war hero Bvt. Maj.-Gen. William Woods (1824-1887), who served from December 21, 1880, to his death on May 14, 1887.

William Burnham Woods was born in Newark, Ohio and went to Yale and returned to Newark to practice law in 1847. As a loyal Democrat, Woods was elected mayor in 1856 and to the Ohio assembly in 1858, where he was elected Speaker. He left the assembly in 1862 to join the Union Army, getting a commission as a lieutenant-colonel of the 76th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. After seeing action at Shiloh and Vicksburg he was promoted to brigadier-general and commanded under Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman during his attack on Atlanta, and then during Sherman’s famous March to the Sea and his campaign in the Carolinas, where Woods distinguished himself at the Battle of Bentonville. Woods was brevetted (i.e., promoted in title only) to major-general in early 1865, and retired from the Army in February of 1866. He moved to Alabama and worked as a lawyer and cotton farmer until appointed to the US Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit in 1869, having converted during the war to Republicanism.

His moderate views and politically convenient status as a southern Republican got him onto the Supreme Court, but once there did little of note, serving uneventfully until his death six-and-a-half years later.

Lucius Lamar (1825-1893) was appointed to replace Woods on January 16, 1888. he served until his death almost exactly 5 years later. He was the first native Southerner appointed to the Supreme Court after the Civil War.

Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar II was born in Putnam County, Georgia, the son of a judge (Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar I). He was the nephew of Mirabeau Lamar, President of the Republic of Texas from 1838 to 1841. He graduated from Emory University, married a professor’s daughter, and moved to Oxford, Mississippi, where he practiced law and taught mathematics at the University of Mississippi. He moved back to Georgia in 1852, was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives in 1853, returned to Mississippi in 1855 and served as a US Congressman (Democrat) for Mississippi from 1857 to 1861. He resigned from Congress at the start of the Civil War and drafted the ordinance of secession for the state of Mississippi. He became Lieutenant-Colonel of the 19th Mississippi Volunteer Infantry (a regiment he funded out of his own pocket), but left the army in May 1862 after an attack of vertigo. Later that year he was appointed as the Confederate ambassador to Russia, and special envoy to England and France, but the Confederate Senate refused to confirm him and he got no further than Paris. He returned to UMiss after the war and taught law, metaphysics, and social science, then was re-elected to Congress, serving as a Representative from 1873 to 1877 and a Senator from 1877 to 1885. That year, Lamar was appointed as Secretary of the Interior in the cabinet of Grover Cleveland, serving until 1888, where he was constantly bombarded by crooked political hacks seeking patronage appointments. While serving as Secretary of the Interior a number of things were named after Lamar, including a river in Yellowstone National Park and counties in Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi.

Lamar’s tenure on the Supreme Court is only notable for him being the only person so far from Mississippi to serve on the Supreme Court. He died in Macon, Georgia, on January 23, 1893.

Howell Jackson (1832-1895) succeeded Lamar on February 18, 1893. He would only serve less than 30 months before dying in August of 1895.

Howell Edmunds Jackson was born in Paris, Tennessee, studied classics at West Tennessee College, then spent a year at the University of Virginia before finishing a law degree at Cumberland University in Lebanon, Tenn., and going into practice in Memphis. He opposed secession, but served the Confederacy as a receiver of confiscated Union property. (His brother William was a Confederate brigadier-general of cavalry, seeing action at Vicksburg and Atlanta.) After the war he swore fealty to the Union and continued practicing law in Memphis. He was elected to the Tennessee assembly in 1880 and the following year was elected a US Senator, serving for five years. Jackson was appointed to the US Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit in 1886, serving until his appointment to the Supreme Court.

Jackson was a vital member of the Court for his wealth of experience in patent law. He wrote 46 majority and 4 dissenting opinions during his time as a justice. A year after his appointment Howell Jackson contracted tuberculosis. William Jackson petitioned Congress to grant Howell a pension to retire on, but Howell recovered just enough to hear one last case, 1895’s Pollock v. Farmer’s Trust & Loan Co., in which he dissented. He called the ruling declaring income taxes unconstitutional “the most disastrous blow ever struck at the Constitutional power of Congress”. He died in Nashville 3 months later.

Rufus Peckham (1838-1909) was given the resulting vacancy by Grover Cleveland on December 9, 1895, and held it until his death in the fall of 1909. His brother, Wheeler Peckham, was one of the federal attorneys that brought down Tammany Hall, and had been nominated to replace Samuel Blatchford the previous year, but political machinations had contrived against him.

Rufus Wheeler Peckham, Jr. was born in Albany, N.Y.; his father, Rufus Sr., was a congressman. Junior studied law in the practice of Senior and passed the bar in 1859. He then spent a decade in private practice before serving as DA of Albany from 1869 to 1972, then as legal counsel to the City of Albany, then got on the New York Supreme Court in 1883 and the New York Court of Appeals in 1886. During this time he was an active member of the Democratic Party (serving as a delegate to the 1876 convention) and a confidante of robber barons, including the Vanderbilts and Rockefellers.

Peckham is remembered for being the epitome of the Lochner era – in fact, he wrote the opinion in Lochner v. New York. But he also held an expansive interpretation of the Sherman Act, holding it as vital to protecting consumer rights. In civil rights, he voted in favour of Jim Crow laws – joining the majority in Plessy v. Ferguson – but against discrimination against the Chinese. He died in office in Altamont, N.Y., and was buried in Albany.

Horace Lurton (1844-1914) was appointed to the empty seat on December 20, 1909. Aged 65 at the time, he holds the record as the oldest Supreme Court appointee.

Horace Harmon Lurton was born in Newport, Kentucky, and served as a sergeant-major in the Confederate Army, where he was captured twice by the Union, ending the war in a prison camp on an island in Lake Erie. His mother petitioned Lincoln to free him, and Lurton earned a law degree from Cumberland University in 1867. He went into practice in Clarksville, Tenn., and was made a chancery judge from 1875 to 1878. He then was appointed to the Tennessee Supreme Court in 1886 and the US Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit in 1893, concurrently serving as dean of law at Vanderbilt University from 1905 to 1909.

On the Supreme Court Lurton frequently voted the same as his closest ally, the progressive justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. Lurton wrote the Court’s decision in 1911’s Coyle v. Smith, which decided the federal government couldn’t dictate the location of state capitals.

Beginning in December 1913 Lurton started suffering from asthma, then caught pneumonia. He died of a sudden heart attack in Atlantic City in July of 1914.

Lurton’s replacement was James McReynolds (1862-1946), who was appointed by Woodrow Wilson on August 29, 1914, and served until January 31, 1941. He is best known as being the least likeable human being ever to serve of the Supreme Court.

James Clark McReynolds was born in Elkton, Kentucky, and graduated as valedictorian from Vanderbilt University in 1882, getting a law degree 2 years later from the University of Virginia. He worked as a secretary to future Supreme Court justice Sen. Howell Jackson, then practiced law in Nashville while teaching at Vanderbilt. He became Assistant Attorney-General in 1903, quitting in 1907 to practice law in New York City. He returned to DC when he was appointed Attorney-General in 1913, where he quickly proved difficult to work with. By his own admission, the main reason Woodrow Wilson appointed McReynolds to the Supreme Court was so he would see a lot less of him.

McReynolds is considered the most abrasive, bigoted justice in Supreme Court history. Chief Justice Taft called him irresponsible and “a continual grouch.” McReynolds openly disrespected blacks and women, turning his chair around when female lawyers argued before the Court. For years he refused to speak or shake hands with Jewish justice Louis Brandeis, and petitioned President Herbert Hoover not to appoint another Jew in the form of Justice Benjamin Cardozo, to whom McReynolds also never spoke. A lifelong bachelor and teetotaler, he refused to employ women, Jews, minorities, smokers, drinkers or married men, the only exception being his longtime court messenger, a black man named Harry Parker. He also constantly went on unannounced vacations, usually to go duck hunting, leaving his work unfinished. He was, however, very charitable and fond of children, adopting no fewer than 33 British children during the Blitz.

In his rulings, McReynolds was a conservative, especially in matters of welfare and economic regulation. He was one of the “Four Horsemen” who prolonged the Lochner era and stymied New Deal reforms, deploring Roosevelt’s plans as turning the government into a “great almoner”. He wrote over 500 opinions, most very brief and concise. He proved to be a strong defender of civil liberties; his opinion in the 1925 case of Pierce v. Society of Sisters, protecting the right for parents to opt out of public schools, would later be cited in the decisions of Roe v. Wade and Griswold v. Connecticut.

McReynolds went very deaf in his old age and assumed senior status on January 31, 1941, effectively resigning his seat. He died in Washington five years later, in August 1946; none of his fellow justices attended his funeral, although half a dozen justices, including Chief Justice Vinson, did attend the funeral of Harry Parker in 1953. McReynolds left his sizable fortune to charity.

FDR confidante James F. Byrnes (1882-1972) was appointed to replace McReynolds on July 8, 1941. He served for 15 months, one of the shortest tenures of any justice.

James Francis Byrnes was born in Charleston, South Carolina, and left school at 14 to be a court stenographer. At 18 he was made a law clerk, which legally required he be 21; he fudged the application form with the help of his cousin, Gov. Miles McSweeney. He apprenticed as a lawyer and passed the South Carolina bar in 1903. He served as a Democratic congressman from 1911 to 1925, gaining the confidence of Woodrow Wilson and championing large-scale highway construction in the 1920s. He failed to win a Senate seat in 1924 after a smear campaign by the KKK claimed he was still secretly Catholic (Byrnes had converted to Episcopalianism as a teen) Byrnes returned to private practice in Spartanburg, S.C., investing in local industry and becoming very rich. He finally won his Senate seat in 1930, holding it until joining the Supreme Court. In the Senate, he supported the New Deal, and spearheaded federal funding for the wildly successful and handsomely profitable Santee Cooper dam project.

Byrnes’s short and uneventful spell on the Supreme Court pales in contrast to his later career. He resigned from the bench in October of 1942 to head the Office of Economic Stabilization, which controlled wages and prices during World War II. In May 1943 he became Director of the Office of War Mobilization and one of FDR’s closest advisors; he was on the short list of vice-presidential choices for the 1944 election. Byrnes attended the Yalta Conference as part of the American delegation, and took very thorough notes. Upon Roosevelt’s death Byrnes was a close advisor to Harry Truman in the first months of his presidency. Truman rewarded him in July of 1945 by making Byrnes Secretary of State, in which capacity he attended the Potsdam Conference and the Paris Peace Conference. Byrnes’s relationship with Truman grew strained over anti-Communist strategy. A speech Byrnes gave in Stuttgart repudiating Stalinism and outlining America’s policy for a stronger West Germany made him TIME’s Man of the Year for 1946. He resigned from Cabinet with some bitterness in 1947, and later served as Governor of South Carolina from 1951 to 1955. He favoured segregation, but recognized problems in its application and poured money into improving the Negro school system. He became a Republican in the later 1950s and secretly advised Nixon on his “Southern strategy”. Byrnes died in Columbia, S.C., in April of 1972, aged 89.

Wiley Rutledge (1894-1949) became a Supreme Court justice on February 11, 1943. He stayed until his death six years later.

Wiley Blount Rutledge, Jr. was born in Tar Springs, Kentucky. He got a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, attended the University of Indiana part-time while teaching high school, and got a law degree from the University of Colorado in 1917. He taught law at the University of Colorado, then was dean of law at Washington University in St. Louis from 1930 to 1935 and dean of law at the University of Iowa from 1935 to 1939, the year FDR appointed him to the Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit.

Rutledge was a liberal activist judge, joining justices Frank Murphy, Hugo Black, and William O. Douglas in opposing Felix Frankfurter’s policy of judicial restraint. He supported the doctrine of incorporation and fought for the supremacy of due process; this was shown most prominently in his dissent in the 1946 case of Yamashita v. Styer, wherein Rutledge argued that even an enemy belligerent (in the person of Japanese general Tomoyuki Yamashita) was entitled to habeas corpus.

In August 1949 Rutledge was driving through Maine when he suffered a stroke. He died two weeks later at the age of 55.

Rutledge’s successor, Sherman Minton (1890-1965), took the bench on October 12, 1949, and sat for exactly 7 years and 3 days. He is the last member of Congress to serve on the Supreme Court, and the only native of Indiana to do so.

Sherman Minton was born in Georgetown, Indiana. His mother died of breast cancer when Sherman was 10, and he turned against God for taking her from him. He worked his way through Indiana U, graduating at the top of his class in 1913 and earned a law degree in 1915, again at the top of his class. He won a scholarship to Yale Law School, where William Howard Taft praised his work, and Minton earned his master’s from Yale in 1916. He went to New Albany, Ind., and practised law until he joined the Army at the start of World War I, commissioned as a captain. He protected supply lines in France and stayed as part of the occupation force until 1919, during which time he studied law at the Sorbonne. He came back to Indiana, became a Democrat, ran for Congress in 1920 and lost. He practiced law in Florida through most of the 1920s before returning to head Indiana’s public utilities commission in 1932. He finally won a seat in the Senate in 1934. In the Senate he vociferously defended New Deal legislation; and when FDR proposed stacking the Supreme Court, it was Minton who drafted a bill to that effect. When Minton lost re-election in 1940, FDR hired him as an advisor until May 1941, when Minton was appointed to the US Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit. Shortly after his succession Harry Truman also appointed him as head of the War Department’s Clemency Board. The increased workload, coupled with a worsening case of anemia, made Minton very sickly, made worse by a heart attack in September 1945 (after which he was in Walter Reed Hospital for 3 months) and breaking his leg in August 1949 (he tripped on a rock in his yard).

Sherman Minton believed in the supremacy of legislation in shaping policy. Consequently, his judicial restraint made him one of the most conservative justices of the Warren court. He supported anti-Communist legislation during the Red Scare, and did not believe in an absolute right to free speech. He abhorred segregation, and needed no convincing to join the majority in Brown v. Board of Education. Minton also stayed fiercely loyal to Truman, dissenting in 1952’s Youngstown Sheet and Tube Co. v. Sawyer.

Minton’s anemia eventually worsened, and he retired in October 1956. He spent his retirement travelling, lecturing, and keeping in correspondence with Harry Truman. He died of internal bleeding in April 1965. He left his papers to the Truman Library.

William Brennan (1906-1997) replaced Sherman Minton on October 15, 1956, until July 20, 1990 – the 7th-longest tenure of any justice.

William Joseph Brennan, Jr. was born in Newark, N.J., the son of Irish immigrants. He graduated from UPenn with a degree in economics in 1928, then from Harvard Law School in 1931, returning to Newark to practice law. He was commissioned as a major in the Army in 1942, doing legal work for the Ordinance Division. By the end of World War II, he was a colonel. Brennan was then appointed to the Superior Court of New Jersey in 1949, then to the Supreme Court of New Jersey in 1951. During the Red Scare, Brennan gave lectures attacking Sen. Joseph McCarthy for conducting “witch-hunts”; McCarthy was the only senator to vote against Brennan’s appointment in 1956.

William Brennan was a very liberal judge, and held a great deal of influence over his fellow justices. Under Earl Warren, Brennan was nicknamed “the deputy Chief” for being frequently called upon to write majority opinions; he continued to hold considerable influence in the Burger court, but by the end of his career the Supreme Court had swung rightward, and frequently Brennan’s only ally was Thurgood Marshall.

Brennan retired in the summer of 1990. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1993 by Bill Clinton, and Brennan enjoyed a quiet retirement, dying in July of 1997 in Washington, aged 91.

George Bush Sr. appointed David Souter (1939-present) to fill Brennan’s seat, taking it on October 9, 1990, and holding it for close to 19 years before retiring in June 2009, making him the first judge to leave the Roberts Court.

David Hackett Souter was born outside Boston and spent his teenage years living on a farm in New Hampshire. Upon getting his bachelor’s degree from Harvard in 1961 he won a Rhodes Scholarship and went to Magdalen College, Oxford, returning to Harvard in 1963 to enter law school. He found private practice not to his liking, and left it after two years to take a job as Assistant Attorney-General of New Hampshire in 1968, working his way up to Deputy Attorney-General in 1971 and Attorney-General of New Hampshire in 1976. He was made a justice of the Superior Court of New Hampshire in 1978, moving up to the New Hampshire Supreme Court in 1983. George Bush Sr. appointed Souter to the US Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit in April of 1990, three months before nominating Souter to the Supreme Court in July, acting on the advice of Sen. Warren Rudman (a friend of Souter’s) and the President’s Chief of Staff, John Sununu Sr. (former governor of New Hampshire).

It was hoped (and feared) that Souter would be a solidly conservative judge, in the mold of Justice Anthony Kennedy and the failed nominee Robert Bork. His nomination was opposed by NOW and the NAACP, and Sens. Ted Kennedy, John Kerry and Bill Bradley voted against his confirmation. In the 1992 case of Planned Parenthood v. Casey, however, Souter voted to continue abortion rights; and thereafter remained a reasonably reliable liberal vote on the Court, working best with Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsberg. He was one of the dissenting votes in 2000’s Bush v. Gore – in fact, he was troubled by his fellow justices’ openly partisan actions in the case, and considered resigning from the Court thereafter.

Souter wrote a letter to Barack Obama on May 1st, 2009, announcing his intention to resign at the beginning of the Court’s summer recess. He left on June 29th and returned to New Hampshire. He holds retired status and sometimes sits on panels of the US Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit.

Sonia Sotomayor (1954-present) was appointed to succeed Souter by President Obama, and was sworn in on August 8, 2009. She is the Supreme Court’s first Latin-American member, its third female and its 13th Catholic.

Sonia Maria Sotomayor was born in the Bronx to Puerto Rican immigrants. Her mother raised her alone after Sonia’s father died when she was 9. She got into Princeton on a full scholarship, and graduated in 1976, the year she married a biologist named Kevin Noonan. (She went by “Sonia Sotomayor de Noonan” until the two divorced, amicably, in 1983.) After Princeton Sotomayor went to Yale Law School, editing the Yale Law Review” and earning a doctorate in 1979. At both Princeton and Yale Sotomayor filed a number of human-rights complaints, both on matters of race and gender. Right out of school she was hired as an assistant at the NYC DA’s office and worked as a public prosecutor. She entered private practice as a civil litigator in 1984, which she did (concurrently serving on the board of directors of the Puerto Rican Legal Defence and Education Fund from 1980 to 1992) until she was appointed to the US District Court for the Southern District of New York in 1992, then to the US Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in 1998.

Sotomayor has been a liberal activist judge; her one point of conservatism, the toughness on crime she displayed as a prosecutor, has not come up in her time on the Court. She dissented in the 2009 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling (her first case) and was in the majority for 2012’s National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius.


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