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Sotomayor: inspired by 'Perry Mason'

May 26, 2009 |  7:03 am

The newest nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court is a 54-year-old federal appellate court judge who grew up in a housing project in the South Bronx, the oldest child of a couple from Puerto Rico who spoke no English.

Winning a scholarship to Princeton University and graduating from Yale Law School, where she was editor of the Law Review, Sonia Sotomayor has bipartisan credentials. She was appointed to the federal district court by a Republican president, George H.W. Bush, and elevated to the appellate court by a Democratic president, Bill Clinton.

Still, President Obama's pick to be the next Supreme Court justice, the first Latina on the court, is inspiring some opposition from Republicans who call her "an activist judge" for a statement she made at Duke University. In the statement -- clip below -- Sotomayor says that appellate courts drive policy.



Some conservatives have come to her defense, arguing that she was just stating the obvious, noting that the federal appellate courts are the first hearing for the issues that eventually reach the Supreme Court.

In any event, what strikes us as more interesting about the judge is this: While growing up poor and suffering childhood-onset diabetes, raised by a widowed mother and speaking no English until after her father died when she was 9 years old, she drew her inspiration from reading Nancy Drew detective stories and watching "Perry Mason" on TV. In one "Perry Mason" episode, the prosecutor was overruled by the judge, leading Sotomayor to conclude that the judge was the most important person in the courtroom.

"I thought, what a wonderful occupation to have," Sotomayor told the New York Times in a 1992 interview. "And I made the quantum leap: If that was the prosecutor's job, then the guy who made the decision to dismiss the case was the judge. That was what I was going to be."

-- Johanna Neuman

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