Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medalist in Law

Justice Sonia Sotomayor supreme court headshot

Justice Sonia Sotomayor has served on the U.S. Supreme Court since 2009. (Photo, U.S. Supreme Court)

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor has been named the 2020 recipient of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Law

“Justice Sotomayor is truly a pathbreaking jurist,” Dean Risa Goluboff said. “Appointed to three different federal courts by three different presidents, her judicial career has been marked by a deep concern for the law’s real-world implications and its impact on the American people. We are thrilled to welcome her to the Law School and to honor her remarkable legacy.”

The medals, typically presented in person at UVA and Monticello, will be given in absentia this year due to ongoing efforts to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus and limitations on events and travel.

President Barack Obama nominated Sotomayor to be an associate justice of the Supreme Court on May 26, 2009, and she assumed the role Aug. 8 of the same year. She is the first Latina to become a Supreme Court justice.

She previously served as a judge on the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, from 1998 to 2009, and on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, from 1992 to 1998. Sotomayor litigated international commercial matters in New York at Pavia & Harcourt, where she served as an associate and then partner, from 1984 until 1992. She served as assistant district attorney in the New York County District Attorney’s Office from 1979 to 1984.

On the high court, she was the lone dissenter in Mullenix v. Luna, which held that a police officer who shot a suspect during a police pursuit was entitled to qualified immunity. “By sanctioning a ‘shoot first, think later’ approach to policing, the Court renders the protections of the Fourth Amendment hollow,” she wrote.

Sotomayor’s solo concurrence in U.S. v. Jones, which held that installing a GPS tracking device to a vehicle constitutes a search under the Fourth Amendment, garnered influence in other federal privacy cases. “It may be necessary to reconsider the premise that an individual has no reasonable expectation of privacy in information voluntarily disclosed to third parties,” she writes.

She also authored the court’s opinion in J. D. B. v. North Carolina, which held that age is relevant when determining police custody for Miranda purposes.

Sotomayor is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society and the American Law Institute.

She is the author of “Just Ask! Be Different, Be Brave, Be You,” “My Beloved World,” “The Beloved World of Sonia Sotomayor” and “Turning Pages: My Life Story.”

Sotomayor is the eighth Supreme Court justice to receive the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Law since its inception in 1977.

She earned her J.D. from Yale Law School and her B.A. from Princeton University.

Past Jefferson Medal in Law Recipients

On the anniversary of Thomas Jefferson’s birthday, April 13 (known locally as Founder’s Day), the University of Virginia and the Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello join together to present the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medals to recognize achievements of those who embrace endeavors in which Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence and third U.S. president, excelled and held in high regard. These medals are the highest external honors bestowed by the University of Virginia, which grants no honorary degrees. For information on Founder’s Day, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medals and the 2020 recipients, click here.

Media Contact

Jennifer Lyon

Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello