National Hispanic Heritage Month
Justice Sonia Sotomayor
Sonia Sotomayor made history on August 6, 2009, when the U.S. Senate confirmed her nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. Appointed by President Barack Obama, Sotomayor became the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice. She is the third woman to become an associate justice of the Supreme Court. She follows Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and former Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.
Sotomayor, the daughter of Puerto Rican-born parents, grew up in New York City. Her father died when she was 9 years old. Her mother, Celina, worked hard to support Sonia and her brother. Sotomayor says her mother's sacrifices made her professional success possible.
After earning a bachelor's degree at Princeton University in 1976, Sotomayor went to Yale Law School. There, she was an editor of the prestigious Yale Law Journal before earning a law degree in 1979.
From 1979 to 1984, Sotomayor was an assistant district attorney in the New York County District Attorney's Office. She then moved to the private sector, where she litigated international commercial matters at a prominent law firm. She rose to become a partner in the firm.
In 1991, President George H.W. Bush appointed her to the U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York. She served in that position until 1998. From 1998 to 2009, Sotomayor served as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. She was appointed to that position by President Bill Clinton.
In addition to her positions on the bench, Sotomayor also taught at Columbia Law School and New York University School of Law.
On May 26, 2009, President Barack Obama nominated Sotomayor as an associate justice of the Supreme Court. During her Senate confirmation hearings, two of her previous cases received considerable attention. In 1995, she decided against Major League Baseball owners, who had not consulted the players' union in changing rules regarding salaries and free agency. The decision ended a players' strike that had lasted nearly a year. In 2008, as part of a three-judge panel, Sotomayor sided with the city of New Haven, Connecticut. The city had dismissed the results of a firefighter's examination because no African Americans had scored well enough to be promoted. That decision had already been overturned by the Supreme Court in June 2009, prior to Sotomayor's Senate confirmation hearings.
Sotomayor was confirmed by the Senate on August 6, 2009. She was sworn in on August 8 by Chief Justice John Roberts. Sotomayor became the 111th Supreme Court Justice. She replaced liberal Justice David Souter, who had retired on June 29. Sotomayor is also considered part of the Court's liberal bloc.
Sotomayor's memoir, My Beloved World, was published in 2013.
The Honorable Mel Martinez
Melquiades R. (Mel) Martinez was born October 23, 1946, in Sagua la Grande, Cuba, to Melquiades and Gladys Ruiz Martinez. After fleeing Cuba in 1962 to escape an outbreak of violence in his hometown, Mel Martinez settled in Florida. He served in local government and in President George W. Bush’s Cabinet before being elected the first Cuban American to serve in the U.S. Senate. He was a moderate voice in support of comprehensive immigration reform. “Bringing people together is my nature,” noted Martinez, the only immigrant among his Senate colleagues. “There is nothing I’d rather do in the United States Senate than work to reach a consensus, build a bridge, seek and maintain common ground.”
Martinez earned a bachelor’s degree in international affairs from Florida State University in 1969 and a law degree from that institution in 1973. He worked in private practice for nearly two decades and was president of the Florida Academy of Trial Lawyers from 1988 to 1989. He also chaired the Orlando Housing Authority and served on the board of directors of the Orlando Utilities Commission. Martinez met his future wife, Kitty, while they were students at Florida State. The couple raised three children: Lauren, John, and Andrew.
In 1998 Martinez won election as Orange County chairman. Martinez also took an active role in the 2000 presidential campaign as co-chairman of the Florida operation of Republican nominee George W. Bush. After the election, President Bush nominated Martinez as Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and he was unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate on January 23, 2001. As Secretary, Martinez was a forceful advocate for homeownership and for the advancement of public-private initiatives with faith-based and community services. At HUD he established a $1.7 billion tax credit program for investors building affordable housing and a $1 billion program to help 650,000 low-income families make down payments.
Mel Martinez was sworn in as a Member of the 109th Congress (2005–2007) on January 4, 2005, and acquired seats on the committees on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs; Energy and Natural Resources; and Foreign Relations. He also served on the Select Committee on Aging, and later secured seats on the Armed Services Committee and the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee.
In December 2008, Martinez announced his intention to not seek re-election to the U.S. Senate in 2010. Delivering his farewell address, Martinez stated, “Having lived through the onset of tyranny in one country and played a part in the proud democratic traditions of another, I leave here today with a tremendous sense of gratitude for the opportunity to give back to the Nation that I love—the Nation not of my birth, but the Nation of my choice.”
Ochoa studied electrical engineering at Stanford University, where she earned her master’s degree (1981) and doctorate (1985). A specialist in the development of optical systems, she worked as a research engineer at Sandia National Laboratories and at the Ames Research Center of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). She helped create several systems and methods that were awarded patents, including optical systems for the detection of imperfections in a repeating pattern and for the recognition of objects.
Ochoa was selected by NASA in 1990 to participate in its astronaut program, and she became the first Hispanic female astronaut when she completed her training in 1991. In April 1993 she served as mission specialist aboard the STS-56 mission of the space shuttle Discovery, becoming the first Latina to be launched into space. During this mission, she and the other mission specialists performed various experiments collectively called ATLAS-2 (Atmospheric Laboratory for Applications and Science-2) that studied the Sun and its interaction with Earth’s atmosphere. The crew also released the SPARTAN satellite, which studied the solar wind for two days before it was retrieved. She was part of the STS-66 Atlantis mission in November 1994. STS-66 carried the ATLAS-3, which reflew experiments Ochoa had worked with on her previous flight. Another small satellite, CRISTA-SPAS, was released, which studied Earth’s atmosphere for eight days before being retrieved.
In May 1999 she was a member of the Discovery STS-96 crew that executed the first docking to the International Space Station (ISS). The ISS then consisted of only two modules, the Russian Zarya and the American Unity. Discovery carried supplies to the ISS to get it ready for astronauts to stay there. It also carried two cranes to attach to the station exterior that would be used in building the rest of the station. Two astronauts, Tamara Jernigan and Daniel Barry, performed a nearly eight-hour space walk to install the cranes while Ochoa assisted them with Discovery’s robotic arm. Ochoa returned to the ISS in April 2002 on the STS-110 mission of the shuttle Atlantis. On her four spaceflights, Ochoa spent more than 40 days in space.
In 2007 Ochoa became deputy director of the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, and six years later she was promoted to director. She was the second woman to hold the post and the first Hispanic. During her tenure she notably oversaw work on the Orion, which was scheduled to travel farther than other crewed spacecraft, allowing for human exploration of such destinations as Mars. Ochoa retired from the Johnson Space Center in 2018 and became vice chair of the National Science Board, which runs the National Science Foundation.