Supreme Court’s Sotomayor inspires at special online Reading & Robes

Speaking less than a week after the death of her friend Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, fellow justice Sonia Sotomayor described RBG as a warrior and extraordinary person as well as a meticulous writer and writing mentor.

Justice Sotomayor said Ginsburg, the feminist icon who passed away Sept. 18 at the age of 87, taught her both by example and guidance. She said she often made Sotomayor’s writing better by suggesting a change of a single word.

Sotomayor’s recollection came in response to a question from a student during a special online version of the College’s Reading & Robes program on Sept. 28. Reading & Robes features judges in their robes teaching children about the courts, civic responsibilities and the power of reading. Since its debut in 2019, the program has taught more than a thousand students, most of them from disadvantaged backgrounds like Sotomayor.

On Sept. 28, a total of 200 students and 27 judges viewed the program live from 30 schools and youth organizations in 13 states. In Chief Justice John Roberts’ most recent year-end report, he emphasized the important role the judiciary can play in civic education.

Sotomayor, whose parents were from Puerto Rico, grew up in public housing in the Bronx and was diagnosed with Type I diabetes at the age of 7. In her picture book for young readers “Just Ask! Be Different, Be Brave, Be You,” she explains about having to give herself daily insulin injections. The book encourages children not to fear people with disabilities or medical conditions. 

During the Reading & Robes program she said that after her diagnosis, doctors did not expect her to live very long. That made her determined to make every moment of her life count, she said. She came to relish not only the fun times but the problems she encountered.

She mentioned graduating at the top of her high school class and then enrolling at Princeton University, only to have the first paper she wrote receive a C.

She said she went to the professor to find out why and to ask for advice on how to improve. She didn’t tell the Reading & Robes students what the professor said. Instead she encouraged them to read about it in her book “The Beloved World of Sonia Sotomayor.” Thanks to grant support, all students participating in Reading & Robes receive an autographed copy of “The Beloved World,” “Just Ask!” or another picture book, “Turning Pages: My Life Story,” depending on the student’s age.

The justice said she graduated from Princeton with highest honors, and all of her books have been New York Times best sellers, so she guesses that she became a pretty good writer.

The online event was hosted by NJC President Benes Z. Aldana, the former chief trial judge of the U.S. Coast Guard.

Aldana said he was inspired by Sotomayor’s commitment to asking herself two questions every night before she goes to sleep: Whom did she help today and what new things did she learn today?

“I think it is wonderful that a Supreme Court justice cares so much about others and is always – every single day – looking to improve, even though she has already reached the pinnacle of her profession,” Aldana said. “She is an inspiration to other judges and everyone else as well. I plan to do my best to follow her example.”

Sotomayor was introduced by Luz Elena Chapa, a sophomore at Saint Mary’s Hall, a private prep school in San Antonio, Texas. She is the daughter of Justice Luz Elena Chapa of the Fourth Court of Appeals in Texas. The younger Chapa said her “ultimate dream” is to attain a seat on the Supreme Court. She thanked the justice for inspiring her and many other Latinas.

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