While profiles on all 100 of our influentials can be seen here, in this feature we throw a particularly bright spotlight on five of our D.C. power brokers.
Sonia Sotomayor, Supreme Court Justice
With a personal story that reads like the American Dream, the first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice—and only the third woman to ascend to the High Court— Judge Sonia Sotomayor was sworn in on August 8.
The daughter of hard-working Puerto Rican immigrants, Judge Sotomayor grew up in the Bronx, reading Nancy Drew mysteries, watching Perry Mason—as she memorably recalled during questioning by Sen. Al Franken during her confirmation hearings—and cherishing her heritage.
Educated at Princeton, where she graduated summa cum laude, and Yale Law School, where she served as an editor of the Yale Law Journal, Judge Sotomayor was legendary for her study skills — she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa – as well as her compassion for the disadvantaged.
During her years as a tough prosecutor in the hotbed of Manhattan, Judge Sotomayor attracted attention – and commanded well-deserved respect for her abilities and fairness – at the highest levels. President George H.W. Bush nominated her to be a federal district judge in 1991; President Bill Clinton nominated her to be a judge on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in 1997, and President Barack Obama nominated her to the Supreme Court earlier this year.
Hilda Solis, Secretary Of Labor
Confirmed as the Secretary of Labor on February 24 of this year, Hilda Solis is no stranger to Washington — or to labor issues. From 2001 to 2009 she had represented the 32nd Congressional District in California, and had distinguished her term as a leader on clean energy jobs, culminating when she authored the Green Jobs Act. The innovative legislation provided funding for much needed green jobs for veterans, at-risk youth, displaced workers and low-income families.
Lessons learned around the kitchen table are sometimes the ones that give direction to our lives. Such was the case with Secretary Solis, whose Mexican father was active with the Teamsters, and whose Nicaraguan mother worked on an assembly line in a Hispanic, working-class community in East Los Angeles. She witnessed first-hand the hard work and difficult conditions that characterize the employment of so many working families.
The soft-spoken, somewhat low-profile Secretary of Labor has a long, strong record of fighting for the working class: she was instrumental in raising the minimum wage during her days as a California state senator; she has fought efforts to weaken on-the-job safety requirements, and has supported the Employee Free Choice Act.
Ken Salazar, Secretary Of The Interior
Raised on the family's remote Colorado ranch handed down over five generations, Ken Salazar has his roots in the earth, his head in the sky. No wonder he was confirmed unanimously on Inauguration Day—ready to get to work as America's 50th Secretary of the Interior, the second Hispanic to hold the position.
During Secretary Salazar's tenure as Colorado's Attorney General, he established an Environmental Crimes Unit, which prosecuted, fined and jailed polluters—and prompted the League of Conservation Voters to name him an "Environmental Hero." And he established the visionary Youth in Natural Resources program in Colorado to educate young people about the state's natural resources.
At a time when some of our wild and open spaces are threatened by development and exploitation, Secretary Salazar is the right man at the right time to protect America's cherished lands. He reinforced the hopes and dreams of environmentalists on the floor of the Colorado Senate in 2005 when he stated, "It is my hope that we can demonstrate to the American public our commitment to future generations through protecting pristine lands. We owe it to our children as a compact to the generations beyond."
Vanessa Ruiz, Associate Judge, D.C. Court of Appeals
In 1982, then-lawyer Vanessa Ruiz was one of the first women to argue a case before the Supreme Court. She prevailed in the case, and has been charting a positive course ever since. Born and raised in Puerto Rico, the graduate of Wellesley and Georgetown Law Center was appointed to the District of Columbia Court of Appeals in 1994 by President Bill Clinton. She was the first Hispanic to serve on the District's highest court.
Judge Ruiz serves as the current president of the National Association of Women Judges, and is a member of the National Hispanic Bar Association, and the Hispanic Bar Association of D.C. She regularly mentors Hispanic students and participates in numerous conferences and programs designed to empower professsonal groups.
In 2001, Judge Ruiz was named Hispanic National Bar Association Judge of the Year for her contributions to the Hispanic community. This summer, the Honorable Vanessa Ruiz received the prestigious Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award from the American Bar Association Commission on Women in the Profession. The award "honors outstanding women lawyers who have achieved professional excellence in their area of specialty and have actively paved the way to success for others."
Rep. Xavier Becerra, Congressman
When a young Xavier Becerra decided to become the first member of his working-class family to graduate from college, he set lofty goals — and achieved them. He earned a BA in Economics at Stanford University in 1980 and a Juris Doctorate from Stanford Law School in 1984.
Since he was first elected to serve in the House of Representatives in 1992, he has remained true to his roots as he represents the 31st Congressional District in the City of Los Angeles. As the powerful Vice-Chair of the House Democratic Caucus, Rep. Becerra adds a strong voice in House leadership and helps set priorities that drive the legislative decision-making process.
The first Hispanic to serve on the Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Becerra is committed to using his seniority to serve the interests of women and minorities and working families. He served as the chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and is an active member of the group's Institute, which provides scholarships and internships for the next generation of leaders.
Rep. Becerra's constituent service includes up-to-date ways of communicating: he occasionally writes on his Becerra Blog, and delivers information regularly via the monthly Becerra Bulletin.
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