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

Sponsored jointly by the University of Virginia and the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, the nonprofit organization that owns and operates Monticello, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medals are awarded each year to recognize the achievements of those who embrace endeavors in which Jefferson — author of the Declaration of Independence, third U.S. president and founder of the University of Virginia — excelled and held in high regard. The law medal, and its counterparts in architecture, citizen leadership and global innovation, are UVA’s highest external honors. 

“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 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 1998-2009, and on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, from 1992-98. Sotomayor litigated international commercial matters in New York at Pavia & Harcourt, where she served as an associate and then partner, from 1984-1992. She served as assistant district attorney in the New York County District Attorney’s Office from 1979-1984.  

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 

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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