Judge Sotomayor learns a lesson not from the law books, but from her mother

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor honors the memory of her mother Celina Báez, who died last year, with a new children’s book focused on teaching civic participation in everyday life.

Sotomayor’s fourth children’s book “Just Help! How to Build a Better World” features a young Sonia as her mother, or Mami, asks her, “How are you going to help today?” on a daily basis.

“People think civic participation is just about being an elected official…or maybe people going into the military,” Sotomayor said in an interview with “TODAY” host Savannah Guthrie. “Children, and many adults, don’t realize that public service isn’t just about getting elected and making changes that way. But it’s the little things each of us does every day to improve our communities.

Since making history as the first Hispanic and third woman to serve on the Supreme Court, Sotomayor has become a strong liberal voice.

Last week, she wrote a searing dissent calling a case involving Texas’ restrictive abortion law a “disaster” and a “serious disservice to Texas women.”

But her long journey to the High Court began as a child in the Bronx, a heavily Hispanic borough of New York City, facing an upbringing that came with its own set of challenges.

In the book, illustrator Angela Dominguez gives young readers a glimpse into the community where Sotomayor, whose parents were from Puerto Rico, was born and raised.

Image: Sonia Sotomayor (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

Living in a housing estate a few blocks from Yankee Stadium, Sotomayor struggled with serious illness, poverty and a single-parent family after the death of her father, who had a history of alcoholism. At age 7, she was diagnosed with life-threatening juvenile diabetes and had to inject herself with insulin injections.

However, his intelligence at a young age was evident. Sotomayor’s academic achievements led her to Princeton and Yale Law School. She then became the first Hispanic judge of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

“Changes in the world don’t always happen in leaps and bounds. It takes each of us deliberately looking at the world around us and saying, how can I make it better? Sotomayor said of her book. “If we each did this, we would live in a better world.”

According to Gallup’s annual governance survey, conducted in September, 53% of Americans say they disapprove of the work of the Supreme Court.

“I need to discuss this a bit with the public to assure them that one of the hardest things about our job is that there are no easy answers. Reasonable people may disagree” , Sotomayor told “TODAY” when asked about publishing it.

“I think we all worry about that,” she said of people’s apparent lack of trust.

While Sotomayor is best known for her dissenting and judicial opinions, she said that “it’s kind of harder to write a children’s book than an adult book.”

“In a children’s book, you have to think of every word. You’re limited to 1,800 or 1,900 words, and every word has to mean something. It has to convey an image to a child that they can see clearly in their mind. . And for that reason, it’s a harder book to write,” said Sotomayor, who also wrote a memoir, “My Beloved World,” in 2014.

When asked what her mother would think of her latest book, Sotomayor replied, “She would have been just thrilled.”

“This morning Mom would have woken up with a big smile,” she said.

To follow Latin NBC to Facebook, Twitter and instagram.

Nancy I. Romero