ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Dan Sosa Jr., a former New Mexico Supreme Court justice and one of the founders of a national Hispanic civil rights organization, died Sunday at the age of 92.
Sosa, who served on the state’s high court from 1975 to 1991, died after a lengthy illness in the adobe house where he was born, the Las Cruces Sun-News reported (http://goo.gl/EdG9R7). It was a home built by his grandfather in the 1860s.
“What other chief justice in the world can go back and live where he was born?” Sosa said in a 2006 interview with New Mexico State University’s College of Business.
New Mexico Administrative Office of the Courts spokesman Barry Massey confirmed Sosa’s death to The Associated Press on Wednesday.
Born in Las Cruces, Sosa played on the basketball team that won the 1941 state championship — the first state title won by a Las Cruces school. He later served as a World War II pilot before graduating from the University of New Mexico Law School in 1951.
“I always know I was going to college somehow,” Sosa said. “But I didn’t know how, and I didn’t know what I was going to study.”
Sosa returned to Las Cruces and was elected district attorney to a district that included Doña Ana, Otero and Lincoln counties. He was first Hispanic to serve in that position.
In the mid-1960s, he and a group of lawyers founded the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund. The group, a key player in protecting the voting rights of Latinos and helping immigrants, is now based in California.
“With Dan Sosa’s passing, New Mexico and the nation have lost a champion of justice,” said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF president and general counsel. “He played a significant role in our founding and made it possible for MALDEF to open its doors in 1968. He worked amiably, and with passionate commitment, to see that the vision of the founders became a reality.”
In a May 2013 story in the Sun-News, Sosa’s granddaughter, Mia Angélica Sosa-Provencio, said it was important to recognize influential Hispanic leaders in New Mexico like her grandfather.
“They weren’t just successful in their own light, but they worked hard to open the doors for others, as well,” Sosa-Provencio said. “So, as a Mexican-American female in a doctoral program, I realize that I am here because I’ve stood on the shoulders of others.”
New Mexico Gov. Jerry Apodaca appointed Sosa to the state Supreme Court in 1975, where he served until his retirement in 1991.
During a re-election campaign for his Supreme Court seat, Sosa said he remembered seeing a young lawyer put up his signs in Albuquerque and Farmington, New Mexico. Sosa in his 2006 interview he approached the lawyer and thanked him for his work but didn’t know how he could repay him.
“You already have, Justice Sosa,” the lawyer told him. “You’re one of the founders of MALDEF. I’m one of the beneficiaries of MALDEF.”
The group Sosa helped founded at paid for all of the lawyer’s legal education.
“Bendito a dios,” Sosa said. “Isn’t that something?”
His daughter, Rita Jo Sosa-Carver, told the Sun-News her father will likely be taken to Santa Fe, where he will lie in state. His body will be returned to Las Cruces for burial. Funeral arraignments have not been finalized.