In case you didn’t know, one of the judges on our nation’s highest court lives with type 1 diabetes. That is Justice Sonia Sotomayor, one of the nine people serving on the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS). She was diagnosed with T1D at only 7 years old and since putting on the black judicial robe she’s been working to raise diabetes awareness — both intentionally and as a byproduct of being on the bench.
From the candid autobiography she penned several years ago to her diabetes-focused children’s books released in late 2018, Justice Sotomayor has served as an inspiration to the D-Community. She shows that “You Can Do This” at the highest level, despite living with a chronic condition like T1D. The fact that she’s the first Latina on the court and at the time of her confirmation, was only the third woman ever named to the SCOTUS, makes her even more of a game-changer.
She’s been in the news for her T1D life occasionally over the years, from book promotions to the news of her hypoglycemia event that required paramedics’ help, and when she started using a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) and her smartphone app beeped during the court’s oral arguments.
All in all, it’s great having a D-peep on the nation’s highest bench. But that doesn’t stop the misinformation on diabetes from flowing — ongoing since Sotomayor was first nominated by President Barack Obama in 2009.
Sotomayor’s type 1 diabetes and politics
Remember back in 2009, when Sotomayor was going through the nomination process and there was that TIME Magazine headline: “Sotomayor’s Diabetes: Will it Be a Handicap?” As DiabetesMine’s Editor Amy Tenderich wrote at the time: “Hell, no. Being a judge is a desk job, for God’s sake — all she needs is can of regular Coke handy, just in case. And btw, Sotomayor’s been performing the judge job for many years since then, without any serious issue impacting her work. Some Twitter peeps thought the TIME article ‘makes us look like we’re heroin addicts!’ or ‘like we’re going to drop dead tomorrow.’ I’m not sure I agree that it was all THAT negative, but if we’re going to get media attention, I think it’s really important to at least explain this illness factually.”
Of course, as we know, Sotomayor earned her confirmation and took the bench. Yet even today, the current Trump Administration continues using her T1D as political ammunition — for example, when Donald Trump in 2017 cited her type 1 as a possible reason why Sotomayor’s health “wasn’t good” and she wouldn’t be part of SCOTUS for long… Ugh.
Unfortunately, these comments mirror what many in the general public think when it comes to diabetes. That’s why we’re lucky to have Sotomayor on the high bench, talking about diabetes openly and writing about it.
Justice Sotomayor’s memoir, with diabetes
Her first book came out in January 2013, called My Beloved World.
This 432-page autobiography tells her story, from growing up with two Puerto Rican parents in the Bronx and making it to Princeton and Yale Law School, to serving as New York Assistant District Attorney before moving to private law practice and eventually being nominated in 1992 by President George H.W. Bush to the Southern District of New York and becoming the first Hispanic federal judge New York. She was then elevated to the U.S. Court of Appeals, before eventually being nominated by President Barack Obama to the SCOTUS.
In the book prologue, she recounts the morning her parents were yelling at each other about the responsibility of giving 7-year-old Sonia her insulin injection. She dragged a chair over to the gas stove and boiled a pot of water in which to sterilize the needle and glass syringe. Her mom came into their tiny kitchen and realized that Sonia was preparing to give herself the shot. There’s a charming exchange in the book in which Sotomayor ponders why it’s called “giving” a shot when she’s the one “getting” the shot and, in this case, doing both.
Sotomayor kept her diabetes mostly private for many years. She explains, “The book describes the fact that, at the age at which I was diagnosed — we’re talking decades ago in the early 1960s — diseases of any kind were secrets. People just didn’t talk about having a condition of any kind. It was considered impolite, of bad form.”
“At least for me, as a child, there was a natural abhorrence to a sense of pity, and I didn’t want people to think that I was damaged, unclean,” she went on to write in that book. “Those are the words I’m using because those are the feelings that I vaguely thought as a child.”
By her 20s and early 30s, “everybody on some level knew that I had diabetes,” Sotomayor wrote. “It wasn’t that I never said the word ‘diabetes,’ but it wasn’t something that I talked about with people. I certainly didn’t then the way I do now.”
Justice Sotomayor’s books for children
In 2018, Sotomayor released two new books that were pared-down versions of her original memoir designed for younger audiences — one for young kids, and another for tweens and teens.
The “Beloved World of Sonia Sotomayor” is an abridged version (still a lengthy 352 pages!) aimed at middle schoolers that now also now includes one notable diabetes addition: A mention of her CGM.
Interestingly, Sotomayor has shared that after her memoir was published she heard from a grandmother who urged her to consider newer technology like a CGM, and the justice finally listened and got one of her own. That’s the beep that came from the mobile app during a court argument in 2018, catching attention since phones and electronic devices are not allowed in the courtroom by anyone other than the justices. D’oh, diabetes beeps!
Like the earlier adult book, this middle school version begins with Sotomayor’s childhood diabetes diagnosis and then takes readers through her life, from growing up poor in the Bronx and the death of her father at age 9 to college at Princeton, law school at Yale and her work as a young lawyer.
For even younger readers, Sotomayor has released a 40-page picture book called Turning Pages, aimed at elementary school kids.
While it’s more general than just diabetes, and delves into how she was inspired as a young girl by books and pop culture characters like Supergirl, the justice’s book tells how she was diagnosed as a child and was at first very scared of needles — to the extent of running outside to hide under a parked car. Sotomayor uses images to share how she found the courage to give herself that first shot, and tackle diabetes, a key lesson that carried on throughout her life.
In talking about her books publicly on tour, she’s said: “People (I add children) who live in difficult circumstances need to know that happy endings are possible.”
We’re impressed, and proud to see Justice Sotomayor talking openly about her life and how diabetes has shaped so many parts of it, to help her get to where she is now. She certainly is an inspiration!