May 28th, 2009
04:40 PM ET
5 years ago

'Latina woman' remark may dominate Sotomayor hearings

(CNN) – For all her experience and accomplishments, the Senate confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor could hinge on one sentence she uttered more than seven years ago.

The sentence constitutes 32 words of the almost 4,000 she delivered during a speech at the University of California, Berkeley. Read by itself, it seems to imply that Latina women make better judges than white men.

"I would hope that a wise Latina woman, with the richness of her experiences, would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life," she said October 26, 2001.

The Princeton and Yale graduate has more than 16 years of federal opinions with which to gauge her proficiency as an arbiter. She spent six years as a district judge and a decade on the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, but the 2001 comment promises to be a focal point of her confirmation.

Conservatives such as talk radio host Rush Limbaugh have called her a "reverse racist." Limbaugh further denounced President Obama as "the greatest living example of a reverse racist."

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich wrote in a Twitter post Wednesday, "White man racist nominee would be forced to withdraw. Latina woman racist should also withdraw."

However, the White House and others say the remark is being taken out of context.

"Look at the totality of it. I have confidence that people will come to a reasonable conclusion," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said in his Wednesday briefing.

When Obama cited the qualities he was seeking in a nominee, a diverse background was atop the list, Gibbs said.

"When I talk about the richness of experience, I include a life and an upbringing that are different than some people have had," Gibbs said.

Indeed, in a 2007 speech to a Planned Parenthood convention, the president laid out the criteria he would use to select judges: "We need somebody who's got the heart - the empathy - to recognize what it's like to be a young teenage mom, the empathy to understand what it's like to be poor or African-American or gay or disabled or old."

Sotomayor's 2001 speech had similar overtones, as she conceded that white justices had made historic decisions on race and gender but emphasized that the attorneys who argued these decisions before the court were African-Americans and women.

At the beginning of her speech, she offered all Latinos in the room a warning: "Latinas are making a lot of progress in the old-boy network."

She went on to laud her Latina upbringing and culture before delivering a brief history on the ascension of women and minorities to the federal bench.

She referenced "two excellent studies on how women on the courts of appeal and state supreme courts have tended to vote more often than their male counterpart to uphold women's claims in sex discrimination cases and criminal defendants' claims in search and seizure cases."

After making the now-inflammatory comment on Latina women versus white men, she discussed how her experiences might color her judicial decisions.

"Personal experiences affect the facts that judges choose to see," she said. "My hope is that I will take the good from my experiences and extrapolate them further into areas with which I am unfamiliar. I simply do not know exactly what that difference will be in my judging. But I accept there will be some based on my gender and my Latina heritage."

Lani Guinier, a professor at Harvard Law School, defended Sotomayor's remarks, writing in The New York Times on Tuesday that "cognitive psychology and history predict that every justice acts from a perspective."

As a judge, litigator and private lawyer, Sotomayor has myriad experiences that will benefit the court, Guinier wrote, but it would be a mistake to reduce Sotomayor to her résumé.

"[Her] impressive intellect is joined by the wisdom and compassion that comes from varied life experiences," Guinier wrote.

Maria Echaveste, President Clinton's former deputy chief of staff, also defended Sotomayor. Calling Sotomayor a racist, she said, is a disservice to the public.

"What is wisdom but knowledge and experience - and experience that comes from being who you are? That's all she was saying," she said.

Asked whether she would defend a white male nominee who said his experience gave him a better perspective on legal issues, Echaveste dismissed the comparison.

"I can't imagine that any president would pick someone who would say something like that. That's not what Judge Sotomayor was saying," she replied.

Several conservatives, however, believe that is exactly what Sotomayor was saying, and they have mounted an offensive before her confirmation schedule is even solidified.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has called her nomination "troubling" and said her public remarks "make it clear she has an expansive view of the role of the judiciary."

"What the American public deserves is a judge who will put the law above her own personal political philosophy," he said in a statement.

Another 2008 GOP presidential hopeful, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, also lambasted Sotomayor, saying Obama's campaign promise to remain centrist and bipartisan is "mere rhetoric."

"The notion that appellate court decisions are to be interpreted by the 'feelings' of the judge is a direct affront of the basic premise of our judicial system that is supposed to apply the law without personal emotion," Huckabee said in a statement. "If she is confirmed, then we need to take the blindfold off Lady Justice."

Despite widespread criticism over Sotomayor's remark, those defending her say they hope the Senate will judge her by her qualifications and not her 2001 Berkeley speech.

"America is a big, rich, diverse pot, and having a woman of her caliber, her qualifications, on the bench can only enrich," Echaveste said.

Added the White House's Gibbs, "I think [richness of experience] provides somebody with important perspective, and I think many people in America can see some part of them in her story."

– CNN's Eliott C. McLaughlin and John King contributed to this report.


Filed under: Newt Gingrich • Sonia Sotomayor • Supreme Court
soundoff (99 Responses)
  1. Rhonda

    Tee, your remarks itself are racist. Amazing how you liberals only call something racist when it's against YOUR race and when it's said against someone else's race, it's okay. Just by speaking, some of you show how ignorant you are.

    May 28, 2009 06:36 pm at 6:36 pm |
  2. Buddy Gilmour

    To "Porked": Of course we're all racists, we live in a racist society. But at least some of us are trying to do better. Are you doing the best that you can to become a better person? Love thy neighbor as thyself means loving everybody, not just folks the same color as yourself.

    May 28, 2009 06:36 pm at 6:36 pm |
  3. Beautifyl Latina and Proud

    As a Latina women, I am very excited about Judge Sonia Sotomayor's nomination, she has a compelling personal story, has great qualifications, she has integrity, she brings diversity and will be a great asset to the United States Supreme Court . When I watched her remarks the other day, my sons and I were very proud to be Latinos. We, Latinos have been waiting for over 20 years for a moment such as this, and the GOP reps are trying to kill her nomination by inflicting their racist agenda out of hate for the black President Obama, I will never consider voting Republican, ever.

    May 28, 2009 06:42 pm at 6:42 pm |
  4. Fed Up

    Justice is blind. The nomination and confirmation proceedings should be as well. I know it sounds ridiculous, but the identity of any SCOTUS nominee should be kept secret and the confirmation hearings done in such a way as to keep the nominee's identity secret. Only then can an unbiased decision be made.

    May 28, 2009 06:44 pm at 6:44 pm |
  5. YBM

    A RAWP judge appointed by a RAWP president (RAWP, RacistAgainstWhitePeople)

    May 28, 2009 06:46 pm at 6:46 pm |
  6. YBM

    MD May 28th, 2009 5:12 pm ET

    This is one area the GOP would be wise to leave alone. This would place into cement the Republican's image as the party of middle-aged bitter white males and ultimately doom them in future elections where people of color, particularly Hispanic, will become a dominant voting block. Though a life long Democrat, I am a strong believer that there need to be at least 2 parties for a democracy to really work. Yet, lead by voices like Limbaugh and Gingrich, I fear the GOP won't be one of those parties in the not too distant future. Maybe the libertarian party will step in.
    -----------------------–
    Beaners would not be a dominant voting block if you send all the illegals back where they came from.

    May 28, 2009 06:51 pm at 6:51 pm |
  7. Neilz

    So Rush says she's a "reverse racist." Does that mean Rush is just a regular "racist." Or is he the "Uber-racist?" No, that's Cheney. Maybe a "titular racist?" No, Rush says he's not playing titular anymore. I know. He's the "oxy-racist."

    May 28, 2009 06:51 pm at 6:51 pm |
  8. No Hope

    tTWO words to her even if it was in one speech, RACIST REMARK.

    May 28, 2009 07:00 pm at 7:00 pm |
  9. Willy Brown

    This is race baiting by the dem's

    May 28, 2009 07:05 pm at 7:05 pm |
  10. Proud DHS radical

    Oh if she was a Bush Appointee, you leftists would be all over her for those remarks but since she's one of your own, she gets a pass huh?

    May 28, 2009 07:05 pm at 7:05 pm |
  11. Edward

    Had she been Caucasian you bet your bottom dollar that the media would be covering the fighter fighter story 24/7, that’s racism for you. Democrats care about race just as much as Republicans do, they just discriminate in a different fashion and hope that no one will notice. I am an Independent and a proud one at that because even though I lean to the left on most issues, it’s obvious that both sides are far too radical for any fair minded person who really does want FAIRNESS for all and a society in which people are judged based on the content of their character rather than the color of their skin … hypocrites.

    May 28, 2009 07:08 pm at 7:08 pm |
  12. Edward

    Those who say that only Caucasians passed the test when trying to give their ridiculous argument legitimacy are lying … both Hispanic and African American Firefighters passed the exam and they too were DENIED PROMOTIONS because not enough minorities passed the test. It’s sad that we deny qualified people who earned their share promotions because too many of them happen to not be a minority. If you claim to be opposed to racism but support policies like this then I have news for you, you are a closet racist. I thought that we as a society were opposed to racism yet Sotomayor voted in favor of this obvious case of discrimination.

    May 28, 2009 07:09 pm at 7:09 pm |
  13. Allan

    I would be very pleased to have such a wise woman as the judge if I ever found myself on trial.

    May 28, 2009 07:09 pm at 7:09 pm |
  14. Edward

    Why are certain people allowed to make decisions based on race yet feel that somehow the same cannot be done to them? For example the firefighters in CT were openly discriminated against and Sotomayor voted in favor of this discrimination but somehow the media sees nothing wrong with it because the victims where not minorities or rather because the victims were Caucasian.

    May 28, 2009 07:09 pm at 7:09 pm |
  15. Edie

    Oh please. Talk about grasping at straws! Judge Sotomayor is FAR more qualified to sit on the Supreme Court than some former nominees, like, say, Clarence Thomas.

    And I say that as an African American woman!

    It is the current President's perogative to appoint candidates; the only reason not to confirm them is due to grave concerns about their ability to fulfill the post, not over ideological disagreements.

    May 28, 2009 07:25 pm at 7:25 pm |
  16. Jeff Spangler, Arlington, VA

    A person's reputation is only as good as their worst words. She said "I believe Hispanic women generally are better qualified than white men to decide certain Constitutional issues." This is essentially the late Hunter S. Thompson's "Gonzo Journalism" theory, that if you haven't personally experienced something (like living with Hell's Angels), you aren't qualified to write about it. Of course, this is facially absurd in journalism or law.

    May 28, 2009 07:26 pm at 7:26 pm |
  17. No Hillary = No Obama

    Oh give me a break – what fool would judge somebody's whole career on one personal statement that happens to be true? Politics sucks.

    May 28, 2009 07:37 pm at 7:37 pm |
  18. abadillaserafin

    the hispanic is not suppose to be a judge, i go around all over the world and i observed that majority hispanic country are corrupt specially the central america and in asia (philippines) im sure this is the beginning of corruption in the UNITED STATES, also after 6 years the united states become beggist AFRICA ......

    May 28, 2009 07:42 pm at 7:42 pm |
  19. Hawaii gal

    Fine, ask her about her remarks. The Senators should be required to read her entire speech, not just one or two lines that FOX news took out of context. If the GOP continues to call her racist and bash this accomplished and intellegent woman, they will continue to lose followers and elections.

    May 28, 2009 08:32 pm at 8:32 pm |
  20. Marlene the Dream

    We all knew it would be this way . . . no matter who Obama had picked, the GOP would mount some type of attack. I am getting sooo sick of all the attacks and the Republicans working to put this administration on the defensive about EVERYTHING.

    From now on, any time I am able to work on behalf of a Democrat against a Republican, I will do it. I always voted my conscience in the past without consideration for party lines but today's GOP has changed my mind. I would be embarrassed to ever support that party in any way.

    And I'm a 50 year old white female – not racist, for the record.

    May 28, 2009 08:34 pm at 8:34 pm |
  21. Mike in Texas

    This is what happens when people get their information from sound bites only and don't take the time to research on their own. Do you believe all the chain emails you get are true too? If Newt also said that slavery didn't exist would you believe him too? Do your research before spilling your drivel on line. It just shows your lack of intelligence.

    Thank you and have a great day. :)

    May 28, 2009 08:45 pm at 8:45 pm |
  22. thomas

    "The sentence constitutes 32 words of the almost 4,000 she delivered during a speech at the University of California, Berkeley. Read by itself, it seems to imply that Latina women make better judges than white men."

    Fortunately, I have read the "sentence" and a few sentences before and after....
    bottom line
    Not only is the sentence literally taken out of context (lol) it gives the impression of the exact opposite of what the judge actually said.
    FYI:
    "Read by itself..." that's another way of saying.. "To take it out of context"

    May 28, 2009 09:02 pm at 9:02 pm |
  23. Lori

    If a white male, or female, made the same comment as Sotomayor, they would have been fired from their jobs, sued, dragged through the mud, and careers ruined for life. Sotomayor gets to be a judge.

    May 28, 2009 09:58 pm at 9:58 pm |
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