Sonia Sotomayor Joins the Board of Directors of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund

The Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund was founded in 1972 as a non-profit organization by three lawyers, Jorge Batista, Victor Marrero, and Cesar A. Perales.

It was inspired in form and purpose by the high-profile NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which Thurgood Marshall had formed in 1957. PRLDEF (pronounced "pearl-deaf") had $300,000 of initial funding from foundations, government sources, and private corporations. U.S. House of Representatives member Herman Badillo was on its first Board of Directors, and at the fund's initial press conference he said, "There is plenty of room for change in our society, and much can be done through the medium of class actions." Perales was the fund's first president. It grew to have a Litigation Division, a Pro Bono Cooperating Counsel Division, and an Education Division. It was typically staffed by young, idealistic attorneys from premier law schools.

Ms. Sotomayor’s involvement with the defense fund has so far received scant attention. But her critics, including some Republican senators who will vote on her nomination, have questioned whether she has let her ethnicity, life experiences and public advocacy creep into her decisions as a judge. It seems inevitable, then, that her tenure with the defense fund will be scrutinized during her confirmation hearings.

Reporting from Washington — In late 1979, Cesar Perales, the head of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, fielded an unusual request from Jose Cabranes, a federal judge and a leading figure in Latino legal circles: Would he place Sonia Sotomayor, a recent Yale Law School graduate, on his board?

Perales normally tried to stock his board with people who had money or connections that could benefit the fund, the nation's most important Puerto Rican legal advocacy group.

Sotomayor had neither.

But he deferred to Cabranes and put Sotomayor on his board.

Cabranes, who had been general counsel at Yale University before moving to the bench, "was her patron, her mentor. He knew her. He thought she was a good fit," Perales said.