July 5th, 2009
10:44 AM ET
9 years ago

State of the Union: Powell on Sotomayor, affirmative action

WASHINGTON (CNN) – One of the country’s most prominent African-American Republicans says the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor should not be derailed because of her ruling in a high-profile case that raised the issue of affirmative action.

“What we can’t continue to have is to have somebody like a Judge Sotomayor, who is announced, and based on one simple, tricky but nonetheless case that the Supreme Court has now decided, have her called a racist or a reverse racist, and she ought to withdraw her nomination because we’re mad at her,” Powell said Sunday in an interview that aired on CNN’s State of the Union.

“She seems like a very gifted and accomplished woman,” Powell also told CNN Chief National Correspondent John King. “She certainly has an open and liberal bent of mind, but that’s not disqualifying. But she seems to have a judicial record that seems to be balanced and tries to follow the law. And so I hope we do have a spirited set of hearings.”

“And, she ought to be asked about everything from both the left and the right,” Powell said of the woman who would become the first Latina on the nation’s highest court if confirmed by the Senate.

Pointing to his own life, Powell also weighed in on the issue of affirmative action more generally – an issue likely to be a focus of Sotomayor’s upcoming confirmation hearings.

“You don’t have an obligation to bring in anybody who’s not able to do the work. You should always have qualifications. But once you have those qualifications, is there something wrong with a taxpayer-funded institution not making sure that it is representing the entire public, the entire population? And I think that’s a good rule for private institutions as well.

Call it affirmative action. Call it diversity. It goes under lots of different names.

“I have a hunch that maybe 55 years ago, somebody took a look at my rather mediocre high school grades, but at the same time thought ‘maybe this kid can make it.’ And they let me in the City College of New York.”

soundoff (53 Responses)
  1. Denna

    Good for you Mr. Powell. Judge Sotomayor will make an outstanding addition to the Supreme Court. Someone needs to be there to watch the conservative, don't live in the real world men on the court. It is nice to see a republican with brains.

    July 5, 2009 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  2. John

    Does anybody remember Robert Bork (persecuted for his conservative beliefs), or Clarence Thomas (liberals lined up for his "high-tech lynching). Now Powell wants to say we should be fair to Obama's Nominee...maybe as fair as Obama was to now Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito. Obama voted against those two nominees on purely ideological lines. We should give his Nominees the same type of "consideration". People like Sotomayor wouldn't know what equality was if it kicked her teeth in. Everything about them is colored by race.

    July 5, 2009 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  3. J.P.

    Yes, based on one incredibly ignorant, arrogant and bigoted statement we can't conclude she's an ignorant, arrogant bigot. Sorry, Powell. You've been a hero of mine for many years, but lately you've been drinking the BaracKool-Aid.

    July 5, 2009 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  4. TCM

    Powell, Sotomayor and Obama all should be fans of Affirmative Action; in fact they owe their careers strictly to their ethnicity.

    July 5, 2009 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  5. hunter

    J. P.

    I wonder if you and like-minded bloggers on the right know what the term "kool-aid drinkers" refers to. If you do, you must understand what an vile tag to stick on the 50+ million who voted for the other guy and are satisfied with his performance to date. Yikes, What's your temperment that you can slap fellow Americans with such a replusive insult.

    Have you ever made any arrogant or bigoted statements. If so, does that mean you are unfit to hold office?

    July 5, 2009 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  6. Bob

    People, at SOME point we have to break the cycle of pettiness and start simply being better than we have been. Both sides have given Supreme Court nominees a hard time, but now is the time to do it a different and better way.

    We need more people like Colin Powell, and fewer people that are so intent on a) revenge (Pelosi) b) lining their pockets (Frank) or c) stoking their ego and trying to be the new Lincoln (Obama).

    Do I like that he supported Obama? Nope, but I respect his right to choose. He's very smart, got good common sense, a great perspective and can be bi-partisan. My biggest disappointment with him is that he isn't willing to run for President when we as a country need him so much, but again, that's his right.

    As for Powell getting where he is because of AA...well, it might have helped, but anybody that thinks he's not wicked smart isn't that smart themselves. If we had more people like Powell and Lieberman and fewer Pelosis and Reids, the country would be much better off.

    July 5, 2009 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  7. Bob


    Cmon! Are you REALLY trying to say that "kool aid" is a phrase only from the right??? Cmon.... 🙂

    My guess is that the blogs from about a year ago had JUST as many of you liberal folks casting this at conservatives as there now conservatives casting it at liberals. And is it distasteful? Yeah, the memory of Jonestown is still fresh for some people. But lighten up, Francis...

    July 5, 2009 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  8. Bob

    By the way, Hunter, you mention 50+ million who voted for Obama (not ALL of whom think he's doing a good job, by the way...liking him is different from perceptions of effectiveness–read the polls).

    Don't forget that this "landslide victory" is more of electoral votes, and approximately 49 million people voted for McCain. We/they are not just cast aside, and we're still here. The leadership of this country has to represent ALL of us...or so I thought I heard from Obama when he was a candidate. Maybe now that he's elected that all has changed...yet another flip-flop and broken promise to add to his pile of them...

    July 5, 2009 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  9. Jim in Asheville

    Secretary Powell, the United States Supreme Court, by its very nature, is not the place to hope that maybe this judge "can make it" if given a chance.

    July 5, 2009 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  10. trying to be reasonable in WV

    TCM wrote:
    Powell, Sotomayor and Obama all should be fans of Affirmative Action; in fact they owe their careers strictly to their ethnicity.
    How ignorant, mean-spirited, and most importantly, UNTRUE! They owe their careers to their talent, which I imagine they possess in far greater quantity than you do. They are all people of conspicuous talent, which is NOT a function of whether or not a withered soul like you happens to like their policies and politics. So disagree with them if you want, but I'd bet they would absolutely crush you by any measure of intelligence. Even Charles Krauthammer, cranky rightist neocon of Fox News and Washington post, described Obama (whose policies Krauthammer really despises) as a having a first-class intellect and temperament. I bet Chuckie wouldn't say the same thing about you . . .

    July 5, 2009 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  11. Edward

    Powell, Sotomayor and Obama all should be fans of Affirmative Action; in fact they owe their careers strictly to their ethnicity.

    Though I am against Affirmative Action, you speak as if the same cannot be said for many Caucasians. How many Caucasians do you think were given promotions or jobs in the past over minorities just because they were the same color as the person doing the promoting and hiring?

    July 5, 2009 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  12. Reality

    Affirmative action creates racism.

    You cannot look at Powell and Obama and not wonder how many more qualified persons were overlooked because they happened to be born with lighter colored skin. Powell admits this. Racism happens when you start asking the same question about all minorities.

    Democrats like low income "victims" with low expectations who rely on big brother to give them everything. It is the Democrats core voting base. This administration is doing everything it can to create more victims by making competition and freedom a thing of the past.

    July 5, 2009 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  13. Just American

    My response to Powell:

    I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

    I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

    Affirmative action will not get us there. Affirmative action will crush and destroy those dreams.

    July 5, 2009 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  14. RH

    Minorities don't want a level playing field, they want preferential treatment. Any minority who was truly interested in a fair shake would be offended and appalled by "affirmative action."

    July 5, 2009 02:14 pm at 2:14 pm |
  15. bimmer

    Why has Powell resurfaced?

    He has done enough with limited talent, thanks to Republican's help.

    Then when the Republicans needed him, he went on to support one of his own. Now he is criticizing his support. He cannot have it both ways.

    July 5, 2009 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |

    What is this about reverse discrimination? To me discrimination is just
    that regardless of color or creed. What makes it reverse because it is
    black discriminating against a white? That is wrong! Websters
    dictionary states discrimination as this. "To show favoror disfavor unjustly." It does not state a color or creed or reverse. So lets stop with
    this reverse discrimination and revers racist because anyway you
    look at it is is DISCRIMINATION, period. No reverse to it, it is just
    plain wrong.

    July 5, 2009 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
  17. bimmer

    Powell, Obama and Sotomayor– all have something in common. They have used their race to excel.

    July 5, 2009 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
  18. bimmer

    Powell should wonder. What happened to the kids who had better grades than him. Did not they genuinekly deserve a fair treatment?

    July 5, 2009 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  19. News or Partisan Enablers?

    Why is Powell all the sudden the "darling" of certain news agencies? I hardly ever saw him on TV, even when he was part of the government.


    Vote for Obama and suddenly you are loved...

    July 5, 2009 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  20. FenceSitter

    I'm so disappointed with Colin Powell these days. He reminds me of this variety of chameleon – the Smith's dwarf – that use their color-changing ability to blend in with their surroundings as an effective form of camouflage to survive. I had very high regards for him in the past, I thought he was over and above all these race issues in the country; a self-made man, who had made it to the top, not because of the color of his skin, but because of what he was, and what he stood for. I was wrong.

    I looked up to him because I'm a minority myself. I came to this great country with nothing but a few clothes and a determination to make it good here with perseverance and respectable work ethics. I didn't become rich but I live a decent, dignified life. I work shoulder-to-shoulder with people of all colors, but mostly white, not losing self-respect nor feeling inferior. I have never used the color of my skin or ethnicity as a defense when I fail, nor "take advantage of it" to get ahead of a "game." What I give is what I get, and I'm happy with what I get.

    July 5, 2009 02:38 pm at 2:38 pm |
  21. Brett from Oriskany

    How nice it is to hear a voice of sanity and intelligence emanate from the Republican party. I am so tired of racism being spewed out under the guise of politics in this country.

    July 5, 2009 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |
  22. Joe

    @TCM: Colin Powell's position had nothing to do with affirmative action; it was the result of over 35 years of military service, including two tours in Vietnam and an extensive collection of medals and awards, not the least of which were the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.

    Although our President's achievements have not been as impressive in his comparatively short career, he does have the distinction of receiving more votes than anyone else in the most recent election and therefore earning the right to be President of the United States; a position Republicans seem unable to respect now that their candidate doesn't hold it.

    July 5, 2009 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  23. DawnL,CA

    Since Sotomayor is clearly for affirmative action, I'm curious if her qualifications are as stated. Did she get into these schools by affirmative action or her smarts? Did she get her job as a judge by intelligence or affirmative action? I believe she meant what she said with her "latina woman/white man statement no matter how she tries to quantify her words. BTW-I'm female & a former democrat (now independent) who has many questions about her.
    Gen. Powell-don't give her a pass yet.

    July 5, 2009 02:56 pm at 2:56 pm |
  24. Marc

    TCM – I see you still drag the 'Affirmative Action' excuse around...
    So let me see if I got it, Colin Powell got up where he ended by the whim of a law and not his own qualities? What an insult to the Army!!!
    And Sotomayor ended up as a judge and decided the destiny of hundreds if not thousand of lives' aspirations and rights because she's a Latin Woman? What an insult to the Justice in the USA!!!!
    Finally... What an insult to all the million of voters that put our current POTUS in his post to claim, so falsely, that he never would have made up to college if not by his merits and from them on (always by his merits and efforts) he created a successful political career!

    July 5, 2009 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  25. mexican joe

    Well isn't this the pits, this General now can see the light. As a military officer I never could figure out what he was thinking when he voted for this man. Such a disaster waiting to happen and it is unfolding right before our eyes. Get smart people the decisions he is making are terrible and we ALL will wind up paying.

    July 5, 2009 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
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