Sonia Sotomayor Graduates from Yale Law School

Ms. Sotomayor was not alone; for many minority students who arrived at elite colleges, the first thing they wanted to study was their own backgrounds.

“What we did on campus was to use its resources to understand ourselves in a larger context,” said Eduardo Padro, a New York State Supreme Court justice who was raised in East Harlem and arrived at Yale in 1971, part of the first group of working-class Puerto Ricans there.

In the fall of 1976, Sotomayor entered Yale Law School, again on a scholarship. This, too, was a place with very few Latinos. She fit in well and was known as a hard worker, but she was not considered among the top stars of her class. Yale General Counsel and professor José A. Cabranes was an early mentor to her and helped her to understand how she could be successful within "the system". She became an editor of the Yale Law Journal and was also managing editor of the student-run Yale Studies in World Public Order publication, which is now known as the Yale Journal of International Law. Sotomayor published a law review note on the effect of possible Puerto Rican statehood on the island's mineral and ocean rights. She was a semi-finalist in the Barristers Union mock trial competition. She was co-chair of a group for Latin, Asian, and Native American students, and in her advocacy pushed for hiring more Hispanics for the faculty of the law school. In her third year, she filed a formal complaint against the established Washington, D.C., law firm of Shaw, Pittman, Potts & Trowbridge for suggesting during a recruiting dinner that she was only at Yale via affirmative action. Sotomayor refused to be interviewed by the firm further and filed her complaint with a faculty-student tribunal, which ruled in her favor. Her action triggered a campus-wide debate, and news of the firm's subsequent December 1978 apology made the Washington Post. In 1979, she was awarded a J.D. from Yale Law School. She was admitted to the New York Bar in 1980.