May 29th, 2009
06:04 PM ET
9 years ago

WH calls Sotomayor wording 'poor'

President Obama said Friday that he believes his Supreme Court nominee 'would have restated' comments she made at Duke University in 2001.

President Obama said Friday that he believes his Supreme Court nominee 'would have restated' comments she made at Duke University in 2001.

WASHINGTON (CNN) - Even as the White House pushes back at Republican attacks over a controversial comment by President Obama's Supreme Court pick Sonia Sotomayor, both the president and his top spokesman said Friday her wording wasn't the best.

"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," Sotomayor said at a university event in 2001. The remark has sparked accusations of racism from prominent conservatives like former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who heads a non-profit that sent out an e-mail calling for Sotomayor to withdraw from consideration for the high court, and conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, who compared the judge Friday to former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke.

In an interview with NBC Friday, President Obama said Sotomayor's point could have been more clearly made. "I'm sure she would have restated it" if she had known how it would be interpreted, he said.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs dismissed Limbaugh's attempt to draw parallels between Sotomayor and Duke, but called her choice of words a "poor" one.

"I've not talked specifically with her about this, but I think that she'd say that her word choice in 2001 was poor, that she was simply making the point that personal experiences are relevant to the process of judg[ing]," Gibbs said at his daily briefing. "That your personal experiences make you have a tendency to make you more aware of certain facts and certain cases, that your experiences impact your understanding. I think we all agree with that, and that on a court that is collegial, that it can help others that are trying to wrestle with the facts of those cases."

Some members of the GOP, like National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn, have said publicly that accusing Sotomayor of racism for the remark is the wrong approach for the party to take.

"This is not the kind of tone any of us want to set when it comes to performing our constitutional responsibilities of advise and consent...." Cornyn told National Public Radio Thursday. "I certainly don't endorse it."

Filed under: President Obama • Sonia Sotomayor • Supreme Court
soundoff (110 Responses)
  1. HEIDI

    I understood exactly what she meant when she felt that a minority women could make a better judgment than a White Male. White men in this country and throught the world have made judgments in regards to their women, their slaves, who will run the world finanically and soically. Now thru Hindsite and thousands of years of BS, we now know why White men shouldn't and can no longer be trusted to make wise and good decisions for this country.

    May 29, 2009 06:44 pm at 6:44 pm |
  2. Sniffit

    @ ib, who said "Look at these comments and then refusing to look at the firefighters questions. "

    You have no idea what her decision in that case even says. I'd bet my left newt on that. The FACT is, her decision went the way it did because she believed it was the LAW and that to decide otherwise would have actually been an attempt to set a public policy against what they did. Read it if you can get past the words bigger than "and." You can't have it both ways, complaining that she tries to set policy and then ignoring her attempt to avoid doing so in the New Haven case just because it's more convenient to try to use that decision to paint her as somehow a "reverse racist."

    May 29, 2009 06:45 pm at 6:45 pm |
  3. Jasmine in Germany

    It is not a negative racist comment at possibly draws attention to the fact that there is racism in the USA (true). Sotomayor understands the history of our country. If one were to quiz most US Americans about the "melting pot", most would have no idea. Many don't know from whom and why the Statue of Liberty was a gift to the US. Sotomayor knows. No, her wording wasn't poor, it was real. Against all odds, Sotomayor has achieved. She is an example of the "American Dream". I resent the political opposition attacks, they are immature, jealous, and anti-American!

    May 29, 2009 06:46 pm at 6:46 pm |
  4. Joe

    I'm white, I know exactly exactly what she said and don't feel the least bit threatened by it. She was pointing out that as a minority, she has a keen understanding of the plight of the disenfranchised.

    Let's face facts, people: minorities have suffered with every Republican administration. Now is their time to balance the scales of justice.

    It's always been the GOP's position to allow wealthy, male Caucasians assume the powerful roles and now they feel threatened that someone outside of that limited mindset will be one of a number of Justices in the Supreme Court.

    As always, Republicans seem more than willing to take most of her words out of context and make something out of nothing with the rest.

    Even more humorous is that when Democrats pointed expressed disdain with the policies and decisions of our former president they were deemed "traitors" and "un-American" but when blowhards like Limbaugh insist that the current president should fail, none of them bat an eye.

    May 29, 2009 06:50 pm at 6:50 pm |
  5. Angus McDugan

    To arithmetic is liberal: Classic liberal response. If you don't agree with a liberal then you must be silenced. Got to love the freedom that libs stand for... My way or the highway and no other opinion than mine.

    May 29, 2009 06:54 pm at 6:54 pm |
  6. Brook E. Mantia

    What Sherilynn Ifill said!

    May 29, 2009 06:54 pm at 6:54 pm |
  7. mike

    Listen to who is leading the chorus.

    Rush At His Best;

    The NAACP should have riot rehearsal. They should get a liquor store and practice robberies.
    Now Limbaugh is saying that an organization with a storied tradition of representing the positive black people for change in their communities are criminals and rioters. An organization that has been represented by intelligent professional African Americans, that has played a part in the Civil Rights movement and continues to be an intelligent, concerned voice for the African American community is degraded to common criminals. There you go "Rush Racist"
    at his best.

    May 29, 2009 06:55 pm at 6:55 pm |
  8. Daron

    A white male can't get away with saying anything remotely similiar to this becase white males use to own other races. Racism is when you think your supremecy gives you to right to lord over, or use, or disregard others. It is not racism to have cultural pride, or self-worth. That is pride in your ancestry. This is just a case of some real racists trying to blur the definition of a word to justify behavior they plan on for the future. Just like somehow the word affirmative action got turned into a dirty label, when it was initially a noteworthy concept. Reverse affirmative action, reverse racism, does the word play sound familiar?

    May 29, 2009 06:56 pm at 6:56 pm |
  9. Crazy ass human being

    I guess the truth hurts. Deal with it- – If you are true Americans.

    May 29, 2009 06:56 pm at 6:56 pm |
  10. Peggy - TX

    Sure her comment was not politically correct and excessively wordy making her sound a little dishonest, like as if she is hinting at one thing but when analyzed in detail is actually saying something much more mundane.

    If you are of the mind set that the present dominance of white men in public and the business world is just a natural result of their generally overwhelming superior capabilities as compared to any other demographic, then it is understandable that you would find this offensive.

    On the other hand, if you believe that a white male can not possibly comprehend how pervasive prejudices, racism and sexism is in our society then you could appreciate that her experience growing up as a Hispanic women would make her more effective as a judge in some cases.

    May 29, 2009 06:59 pm at 6:59 pm |
  11. Oh Please

    Enough already.....let a historic moment has it's place in the sun.......
    All the other judges ...I think they all of the same colour an experiece may have not said anything inflammatory but open some their
    closet.... or hearts critics will be surprised.

    May 29, 2009 07:01 pm at 7:01 pm |
  12. No Incumbents 2010

    "I'm sure she would have restated it" if she had known how it would be interpreted, he said.
    Or if she had known she would have been selcted for the Supreme Court.
    Personally I do not care what she said, this is a free country and I'm tired of all the political correctness nazis encroaching on our freedom of speech, but that said, what is good for the goose is good for the gander.( Sorry if you take that as a sexist statement, it was not meant to be, also if I offended any poultry for not including them in that statement it was clearly unintentional. There was no reference made to the color of the geese so I'm safe there.)

    May 29, 2009 07:04 pm at 7:04 pm |
  13. Trudy

    Why are Republicans being slammed for calling a spade a spade. Sotomayor stated what she believes... and from her obvious conviction, we can only conclude that she is a blatant racist. No two ways about it folks. If a white guy said that the richness of his experiences made him better qualified that a black man, or a white woman, or fill in the blank... I think ( myself included) we know what the end result would be. So please, stop with the double standards and name calling and really look at this nominee from the standpoint that we should all want someone who is fair, competent and just.

    May 29, 2009 07:06 pm at 7:06 pm |
  14. Independent_me

    Who has not made a somment that was taken out of context by someone who had their own agenda going on?

    Who has not made a stupid comment, or one that could have been worded better?

    (S)he who is without sin, let him/her cast the first stone!

    May 29, 2009 07:06 pm at 7:06 pm |
  15. Chris

    What they seem to be saying here is to 'blow smoke' at the voters just as they did during the campaign prior to the elections. Say it one way, do it another! My God, when will all of the lies end?

    May 29, 2009 07:07 pm at 7:07 pm |
  16. Independent_me

    Who has not made a comment that was taken out of context by someone who had their own agenda going on?

    Who has not made a stupid comment, or one that could have been worded better?

    (S)he who is without sin, let him/her cast the first stone!

    May 29, 2009 07:07 pm at 7:07 pm |
  17. Skip, a black man

    Well, i guess we can blame Bush.....why not we always do.....people need to wake up...or at least finish High School!

    May 29, 2009 07:08 pm at 7:08 pm |
  18. Brook E. Mantia

    I think a Latina woman who has applied herself to overcome the odds and achieve such stunning success by her own merits would indeed be in a better position to make fair and wise decisions; as opposed to a privileged, elitist white guys who feel entitled to lord over everyone else and maintain the status quo.

    She has NOTHING to apologize - NOTHING she should have said "differently" in order to to satisfy the BONA FIDE racists.

    Pompous old white guys trying to play the victim behooves them not.

    Ever notice how the GOP accuses their enemies of their own failings to divert attention from themselves?

    May 29, 2009 07:10 pm at 7:10 pm |
  19. Objective Thinking

    arithmetic is liberal: Calling people stupid is what contributes to the "elitist liberal" stereotype. You're not doing liberals any favors here.

    May 29, 2009 07:12 pm at 7:12 pm |
  20. Obama Victim

    Here comes the WH spin-machine.....

    "It was poorly worded...."

    Yeah – kind of like when Obama chided , "Americans clinging to guns and religion".

    Or when Obama on the campaign trail remarked about Iraq, "All we're doing is air-raiding villages and killing innocent civilians!".

    The "poorly worded" excuse is the liberal reaction to UH OH WE'RE BUSTED.

    May 29, 2009 07:13 pm at 7:13 pm |
  21. Jon in CA

    Hey Obama... I thought words mattered!?

    May 29, 2009 07:13 pm at 7:13 pm |
  22. Eric

    I think Rush Limbaugh had a poor choice of words when he spoke about Donovan McNabb being overrated because some in the media were eager to embrace a black QB and therefore over-elevated his acheivements despite a fantastic Eagles defense.

    However, he had a point, and in a world where a white man has a point and that point can be spun as racism towards blacks, that white man doesn't get a chance to 'choose better words'. He is labeled a racist and he is attacked.

    I think neither Limbaugh nor Sotomeyer should be denied a chance to clarify their point. However, it seems society wishes to employ a double standard.

    May 29, 2009 07:13 pm at 7:13 pm |
  23. Mari( maybe one of my comments will be posted)

    @ Wilby........... Yes, so can I! Really, this whole attack against Sotomayor is getting goofier by the day!

    The GOP's got nothing...... nothing!

    May 29, 2009 07:15 pm at 7:15 pm |
  24. Lori

    Why aren't Republicans attacking the fact that Sotomayor included her gender in her statement? She said 'Latina WOMAN'. Could it be b/c it is easier to rally the conservative base on the issue of race and not on gender and the GOP cannot afford to alienate women (who are an important voting bloc especially white women)?

    I am thoroughly enjoying the Republican party fight against each other. While Republicans think that complaining about Sotomayor's nomination is hurting Obama, they fail to the realize that his approval has actually gone up since the nomination while the GOP's infighting and destruction continues. They're fighting a battle they know they can't win so Dems let them continue to slander Sotomayor on tv and on the blogs. The majority of Americans are watching them and are still overwhelmingly supporting our President.

    May 29, 2009 07:17 pm at 7:17 pm |
  25. Lynn

    As a sixty year old white woman I am ashamed of the comments of people of my race and mainly my age making such ridiculous comments. The woman is NOT a racist and is a qualified pick. Funny that it is mainly wich, older white men who have cxontrolled the Court and all levels of gov't are whining and complainiong that demographics and realities are changing in a multiracial America.

    As usuual the rifgt wingnits are making ridiculous claims and CNN faming the controversy and exercising in character assassination before the candidate has a chance to face the Senate and explain her statements.

    May 29, 2009 07:19 pm at 7:19 pm |
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