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Sotomayor battled bias in D.C.

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Judge Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama's first pick for the Supreme Court, got some real-world experience fighting discrimination before she ever heard a case as a judge.

As a law student at Yale, she turned down a high-profile job with the powerful Washington law firm Shaw, Pittman, Potts and Trowbridge to protest questions during the recruitment process about her Hispanic heritage, according to a report in The Washington Post from 1978. The daughter of Puerto Rican immigrants, Judge Sotomayor would be the first Hispanic to serve on the high court if confirmed.

A student-faculty tribunal found that during a recruitment dinner one of the Washington firm's lawyers discriminated against her by asking whether she had been "culturally deprived" by her heritage.

Mr. Obama introduced Judge Sotomayor as a candidate with the "common touch" and "experience" he is seeking for the nation's highest court but did not mention the 1978 incident. Ms. Sotomayor has served on the U.S Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit since 1998.

According to the contemporary news account of the tribunal's findings, a Shaw, Pittman lawyer asked Judge Sotomayor: "'Do law firms do a disservice by hiring minority students who the firms know do not have the necessary credentials and will then fire in three to four years? Would [you] have been admitted to the law school if [you] were not a Puerto Rican? [Were you] culturally deprived?"

One of the firm's founding partners apologized to Judge Sotomayor at the time. The firm was bought three years ago and merged into Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP.