WASHINGTON (CNN) - Judge Sonia Sotomayor continued making the rounds on Capitol Hill Wednesday, meeting several additional U.S. senators who will help decide whether she becomes the country's first Hispanic Supreme Court justice.
At the same time, one leading Republican backed away from earlier heated criticism of Sotomayor in which he labeled her a racist. The shift appeared to reflect an ongoing debate within the GOP on how best to critique Sotomayor without alienating women or Hispanic voters.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said he initially reacted too strongly after reading a 2001 speech by Sotomayor in which she said she "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."
Gingrich wrote last week in the on-line forum Twitter that Sotomayor's remarks were racist and that she should therefore be forced to withdraw as President Barack Obama's nominee.
"New racism is no better than old racism," Gingrich wrote. "White man racist nominee would be forced to withdraw. Latina woman racist should also withdraw."
On Wednesday, however, Gingrich released a lengthy op-ed in that seemed to back away from his initial reaction.
"My initial reaction was strong and direct - perhaps too strong and too direct," Gingrich wrote in the conservative publication Human Events.
"The sentiment struck me as racist and I said so. Since then, some who want to have an open and honest consideration of Judge Sotomayor's fitness to serve on the nation's highest court have been critical of my word choice."
Gingrich added that "the word 'racist' should not have been applied to Judge Sotomayor as a person, even if her words themselves are unacceptable."
Gingrich's change in sentiment was immediately praised by Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
"I'm very glad he backed off," Sessions told CNN Senior Congressional Correspondent Dana Bash.
"I think that will help us have a real good discussion about the serious issues that the nation faces and the court faces."
Sessions added that he has "been troubled as I looked at her record as to whether or not she's an activist ... (but) I just haven't felt that it's appropriate to make those kind of strong statements about her."
Other leading conservatives have also reacted harshly to Sotomayor's record. Popular radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh labeled her a "reverse racist," and former Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo asserted that her association with the Hispanic group La Raza was the equivalent of a membership in the Ku Klux Klan.
Some political analysts have warned that the Republicans are risking putting themselves on trial in front of Latino-Americans.
"If they line up uniformly in hostility against the first Hispanic woman (nominated) to the court, they risk paying a terrible price with the biggest and fastest-growing minority in this country," CNN political analyst David Gergen said.
On Tuesday, leading Senate Democrats tried quell the controversy over Sotomayor's Latina remarks. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, said after meeting with Sotomayor that the judge told her the controversial remarks were a "poor choice of words."
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, said Sotomayor told him that "of course one's life experience shapes who you are, but ultimately and completely ... as a judge you follow the law. There's not one law for one race or another. There's not one law for one color or another. There's not one law for rich, a different one for poor. There's only one law."
Leahy also ripped Sotomayor's critics for launching "the most vicious (attacks) I've ever seen."
He said that the Judiciary Committee's confirmation hearings would not begin until afterJune, but "with the attacks that have been going on against her, I believe it'd be irresponsible to leave her hanging out there."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, was non-committal when asked about a timetable, saying only that "we're going to do this as quickly as we can (but) won't set any arbitrary deadlines."
Obama has called for his nominee to be confirmed before the start of the next Supreme Court term in October.
Sotomayor is slated to spend her second day on Capitol Hill meeting with 10 additional senators.
She is scheduled to meet with, among others, Sens. Judd Gregg, R-New Hampshire; Barbara Mikulski, D-Maryland; Olympia Snowe, R-Maine; Herb Kohl, D-Wisconsin; Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island; and Ron Wyden, D-Oregon.
She also is expected to meet with Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who has called on her to apologize for her Latina comment. Graham recently called the comment "troubling and inappropriate."
"She's going to have to convince me that if I found myself in court against someone she had a lot of empathy for, that I'd get a fair shake," Graham said. "If she can't, I won't vote for her."
–CNN's Dana Bash contributed to this report
"Whether born from experience or inherent physiological or cultural differences, a possibility I abhor less or discount less than my colleague Judge Cedarbaum, our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging. Justice O'Connor has often been cited as saying that a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases. I am not so sure Justice O'Connor is the author of that line since Professor Resnik attributes that line to Supreme Court Justice Coyle. I am also not so sure that I agree with the statement. First, as Professor Martha Minnow has noted, there can never be a universal definition of wise. Second, 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".
This paragraph is from her speech. Please read the speech in its entirety before making more misinformed remarks. It is online for anyone to read.
Sotomayer was absolutely accurate in her statement about being latino and coming to a better conclusion that a white man. After you have been beaten down by racism, which many latino's in this country have, then your perspective of those who are being treated unfairly is much more accurate that the fat white guy who never dealt with any kind of racism or racial animosity. It was not a racist statement, it was factual.
God! Sotomayor looks like my first wife on a good day!
"My initial reaction was strong and direct — perhaps too strong and too direct." – Newt Gingrich.
Well what would we expect from the hateful, devisive, conceited, set of clowns that are the Republicans! Your party is so hateful to anyone that is not like them that shooting off your mouths in a knee-jerk reaction without thinking comes as first nature to you. Try to LEARN to listen before you hope on the hate bandwagon next time idiots.
There was no GOP race rhetoric. Limbaugh does not call himself a republican, he calls himself a conservative. Gingrich is no longer in political office and has retracted his initial comments. All of the GOP Senators have been respectful of Ms. Sotomayor even if they disagree with her legal opinions. Alot of people don't pay attention to Limbaugh, he's runs his mouth to get the attention.
Typical Republican June 3rd, 2009 12:49 pm ET
She's a wet back! Don't let any mexicans into power. Us white supremacists type people don't want no woman in a position of authority!
Lay off the cartoons every once in a while! She is of Puerto Rican decent, meaning she is an AMERICAN! Not Mexican! Regardless of where she's from, your post a disgrace AND phoney! Most likely posted by a drunken liberal just to stir something up!!
Any decision made by a woman (Hispanic or otherwise) will be different from a man's (white or otherwise) Different does not mean better. Woman doctors, police officers, judges etc. have forced us to re-think many previous solutions. That's all to the good as a diversity of opinions on many subjects enriches us all.
Truth Teller June 3rd, 2009 12:43 pm ET
To Matthew in Detroit.
You are an idiot.
A well thought out and intelligent reply! Well done! Chalk another one up for the liberals!
@dave truth teller,all what you listed,i assume you are indirectly refering to blacks college,tv's,and programmes,but they came into being because blacks were denied the right to mix or achieve their potential in a level playing field for a long time,and they had to look out for themselves.Maybe you need to read an unbiased history.
MatthewDetroit June 3rd, 2009 12:44 pm ET
I must agree with the Dems on one thing.
The Republican is very weak and made up of a bunch of politicians. Instead of standing up for what is right they are worried about looking good. They have lost their integrity like specter has. They are only worried about their next paycheck and getting re elected.
It is too bad.
Agreed, we have politicians and not a one of them are Statesmen!
I bet some Massa's burning in hell are yelling... told yall not to teach them how to read, set them free or respect themselves as 100% human....
i guess it doesn't feel too good when you have been taught your whole life or in USA case since your founding that one ethnic make-up is better than another. Once you educate a person, you can never again oppress them
Dutch/Bad Newz, VA June 3rd, 2009 12:47 pm ET
@ Teleprompter of the U.S.A
The " I know you are, but what am I" stance is not an argument
Your are correct but why is this same arguement employed by the liberals?
SERIOUSLY People...i always make it a habit of listening to comments in there entirety and full perspective regardless of political view. It is the only way to get to the core of an issue.
Regarding MatthewDetroit, this is an example of why we need education reform!