June 3rd, 2009
01:14 PM ET
13 years ago

Borger: Why Gingrich withdrew 'racist' label

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/04/06/art.newt.jpg caption="Gingrich tweeted last week that Sotomayor is a 'latina woman racist.'"]

WASHINGTON (CNN) - Well, well.

After initially waiting a few nanoseconds to call Supreme Court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor a racist - not to mention advising that she just ought to withdraw from consideration - Newt Gingrich has had a sudden change of heart. Or at least vocabulary.

In the conservative magazine Human Events, he writes on Wednesday: "My initial reaction was strong and direct - perhaps too strong and too direct.

... 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. ... The word 'racist' should not have been applied to Judge Sotomayor as a person, even if her words themselves are unacceptable."

An apology from Newt? And one that contains a string of thoughts too long to Twitter? How can that be?

It seems as if poor Gingrich found himself the target of his own Republican Party. Some of the more serious folks in the Senate had been trying to figure out what kind of a jurist Sotomayor might be, when Newt and Rush Limbaugh decided to morph into Thelma and Louise.

Their favorite topic? Sotomayor's now infamous statement that, "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." Foolish, yes. Self-serving, sure.

But Gingrich and Co. just couldn't leave it at that. Personal name-calling is just so much more fun - and attention-getting. So she became a racist (even a reverse racist), in their words.

Not surprisingly, Republican senators trying to figure out a way to mount real questions about her judicial record were appalled. One Senate Republican told me that the GOP caucus grew increasingly furious at Gingrich's grandstanding.

"People are really angry," the senator says. "Newt and Rush have simply made it far more difficult for Republicans to raise the legitimate issues. They're so quick to throw the word racist around, they look ugly, and make us look the same way."

And ugly is not a good place to be when you've just resoundingly lost an election - with less than one-third of the Hispanic vote. If it stays at that level, Republicans will have a hard time winning elections in key red states with growing Hispanic populations.

"Is calling her names our best talking point?" asks GOP pollster Tony Fabrizio. "It's a symptom of being leaderless; it's every man for himself these days." The point, he says, is not to question whether Sotomayor is qualified to sit on the court. After all, after 17 years on the bench, there's no doubt she has the right resume. The right question to ask, Fabrizio rightly argues, is this: How is she going to fill that seat?

And then there's this: Instead of throwing around terms like "judicial activist," why not actually examine her record and look for things that might have some real meaning for the American people?

In these economic times, the old culture wars arguments against judges as a group of evil-doers ready to 'legislate from the bench' holds much less sway. "It's got to be about a question of fairness when people are suffering economic anxiety," says Fabrizio, who looks to the New Haven firefighters case as good fodder for discussion. In that case, the city denied promotions to a largely white group of firefighters after a civil service exam in which none of the black employees who took the test would have been promoted.

"These people studied for a test, passed it and didn't get their promotions," Fabrizio says.

And if the high court overturns Sotomayor's ruling - which some say is likely - the decision would only make the case more incendiary. And that's a fair discussion to have.

But it should also be held in the context of the judge's voluminous record. Tom Goldstein of the respected Scotusblog has done our work for us in examining the firefighters case plus 96 other race-related cases Sotomayor ruled on while on the Court of Appeals.

Goldstein's findings hardly show the mark of a jurist who is looking for discrimination above all else. The judge and the panel rejected the claim of discrimination 78 times and found it to be accurate in 10 cases. Nine of those cases were decided unanimously. Overall, he calculates, "Judge Sotomayor rejected discrimination-related claims by a margin of roughly 8 to 1."

All in all, Goldstein writes, in an 11-year career on the Second Circuit, the judge "has participated in roughly 100 panel decisions involving questions of race and has disagreed with her colleagues in those cases ... a total of four times."

Four times? Is that a legal activist? A reverse racist? A racist? Or even an extremist? Hardly.

Note to Newt: Need new adjectives.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Gloria Borger.

Filed under: Newt Gingrich • Sonia Sotomayor • Supreme Court
soundoff (93 Responses)
  1. Kevin B

    Newt and Rush are literally killing the future of the GOP with anyone but the fringe voter.

    Thanks guys................!

    June 3, 2009 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  2. Enough

    And what makes Gloria Borger the expert on Newt Gingrich? So much so that she personally knows why he did. I doubt it, a liberal cannot look beyond their own little world. How about news stories that are factual and not all this liberal speculation with her own personal spin on it.

    June 3, 2009 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  3. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA

    Gingrich is not an elected official and shouldn't be speaking on behalf of the the republican party. But some people just don't know when to shut up.

    June 3, 2009 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  4. RobK

    What Judge Sotomayor said was racist and sexist, but that doesn't mean that she is. Hopefully, when others, such as white males, say something that could be construed as racist, or is just a random negative comment about a minority, they will not be so quickly tarred with the "racist" brush, as they have in the past.

    June 3, 2009 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  5. Annette

    Next time, think before you comment, Newt and you owe the Judge an apology.

    June 3, 2009 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  6. SLM

    Not another story on the same subject!! Come on CNN how about one thread per topic, these days of 5-6 threads on the same subject are quite boring, and how many different ways can you spin the Sotomayor mess?

    June 3, 2009 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  7. AJP

    Newt is a typical catfish, all mouth and no brains.

    June 3, 2009 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  8. oh no!

    I've seen quite a few posts from various related stories claiming "you said it, you meant it, you can't take it back, Newt"... What I find funny about the whole deal is I remember a recent statement from someone else in the government that went something like "We'll release these here torture documents, but they are in the past, we won't prosecute anyone."

    Does anyone remember what happened a day later? Oh, right, he lied to us. He determined it might be better to let someone else prosecute after all. Apparently Newt isn't the only one with his head where it doesn't belong.

    June 3, 2009 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  9. Good Cop / Bad Cop

    It was a co-ordinated GOP gimmick ....

    ... have the most radical, rabid voices in the party .... Gingrich or Palin or Cheney or Coulter or Hannity or O'Reily or Limbaugh ... float a trial ballon .... say something OUTRAGEOUS ... and see if it resonated with the American people.

    Since it didn't, and Gingrich wants to still get taken seriously by the NEWS MEDIA and the Party Establishment, he offered a non-apology Apology.

    Too bad for him, there are numerical facts which will be used to demonstrate how in line she is with her judical colleagues instead of being a black/brown race-favoring wildcard.

    June 3, 2009 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  10. Pepou

    He withdrew it because he thinks that it might come back to haunt him if he has the bad idea of running for president. The guy is an hypocritical creep who deserves only contempt.

    June 3, 2009 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  11. Sam

    He withdrew the racist label because according to the media only whites can be racist. That is what they call all of us who don't like our new socialist government and the leader of it.

    June 3, 2009 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  12. Anonymous


    June 3, 2009 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  13. No Incumbents 2010

    Gingrich is a bitter old-time race-baiter who still didn't apologize for calling Sotomayor a racist. Newt will do anything to pander to the far right to get positioned for the 2012 presidential race. The way Newt is mistreating Sotomayor is disgraceful. Interesting how the GOP only engages in ad hominem attacks and doesn't want to review her judicial record.

    June 3, 2009 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  14. Melissa

    Wow, some of the Republicans actually have brains. I'm shocked. One thing remains clear, if his fellow Republicans hadn't freaked out, he would still be standing by his statement. He's slimey.

    June 3, 2009 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  15. G

    A well thought out piece Mrs. Borger it would have been nice if the republican party looked at Mrs. Sotomayor record instead of calling her a racist at the start without even looking at the context in which she said those words. Unfortunately for the Republican party they put too much weight on what people like Rush and Newt think and have now just felt the consequences of doing so. And more unfortunate is the fact that the hispanic community has voted for the democratic party overwhlemingly over the republican party in this past election. We're a very proud community and it was an honour to have someone from our community be nominated to the Supreme Court I think its fair to say this stuff just doesn't happen to our community everyday. But with their actions they just turned off a lot of hispanic voters. If they want to get the hispanic vote back then they should realize that a lot of us are social conservatives they can start there and provide good economic solutions and they got us back so far they have failed. And I don't think they are getting us back anytime soon.

    June 3, 2009 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  16. carlo

    Let's see if her actual record becomes a GOP talking point.....Nah, they never go with the facts. That would be-American.

    June 3, 2009 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  17. AJB

    I think he found that such comments are causing mass repudiation of the republican party – as well they should. At least he's showing some sense and common decency for a change.

    June 3, 2009 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  18. Lolbama

    Racist was not an incorrect term to use when race was discussed by the judge. If he called her a race-baiter ala Al Sharpton, that would have gone too far; she clearly is not. This is just another fine example of what is wrong with our country. Is no one concerned at all that lawyers run everything? One branch of government is comprised solely of lawyers. Another branch of government creates laws with the knowledge that lawyers have done all the legwork involved. That same branch is comprised of mostly lawyers btw. The third branch of government is cocooned by a team of lawyers (personal and governmental) while he himself is often a lawyer (Obama, Clinton, etc). Couple all this with English as one of the crappiest languages on Earth where there are multiple interpretations of the simplest terms. Guess who is there to interpret for us? Lawyers. The US is headed to being a Socialist Barocracy. You saw it here first!

    June 3, 2009 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  19. Rani McBride

    They don't look ugly. They ARE ugly.

    June 3, 2009 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  20. Skeeve

    I am sorry, but this is silly. ANY person, latina, Chinese, Russian, British or any other non-American who was born and raised in a multicultural environment has more experience then an American (or any other national) who was born and raised in a single-cultural environment. It is a statement of a very simple fact – nothing more nothing less. As for being a women... let me just ask all this very smart white (or otherwise) males out there – have you ever being pregnant? So there, you never had and never will have THIS particular experience so on this account Sotomayor is right again she has more experience. Telling us that upbringing doesn't play any role is simply naive – it always does. While, black or purple in a green polka dot.

    June 3, 2009 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  21. Clay

    It would be a great help and relief to us all if CNN would discontinue reporting on this cretin. CNN censors many of my comments which are far less offensive than the filth that spews from Gingrich, but you faithfully print his diatribes almost daily. Newt was thrown out of offfice for ethics violations. Why should I be subjected to his insane ramblings whenever I read the news?

    June 3, 2009 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  22. single mom

    Maybe Newt is acting this way on purpose. Maybe he wants to further discredit the far-right to marginalize them so the moderates in the Republican party can get control and steer things back to where they should be. Because if someone with Gingrich's political background temporarily takes sides with someone like Limbaugh, and then goes 'Nope, these folks are nuts and that's not where we want to take the party." Then it pulls the rug out from under them because then enough of those teetering might go, "yeah, I'm sticking with Newt and not listening to your extremist drivel." Anyone doing that for the Democrats?

    Hey, it's the best I've got on one cup of coffee. : )

    June 3, 2009 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  23. Pete

    The Newtster isn't thinking about running for POTUS to help America – he and most Replublicans don't give a darn about our country, he is doing it because it will keep him in the media and he will make money doing so.

    oh....and can WE PLEASE READ HER ENTIRE QUOTE?!! Is this what Twitter is doing for America- morphing us into illerate fools who can only read sentences of 256 characters or less and thus forming judegement based on that?

    Geesh, read a book people.

    June 3, 2009 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  24. Nelson Colorado Springs Co.

    I can say the same thing,This is amazing, Judge Sonia Sotomayor has been a judge for many years one line from 2001speech, Gingrich and conservative host Rush Limbaugh called Sotomayor's racially divisive remarks. Now when Judge Sotomayor "said the statement was a bad choice word" move on, Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh said Judge Sotomayor is a racist judge then Gingrich change his mine saying he shouldn't have said The word 'racist' should not have been applied to Judge Sotomayor as a person. WHAT UP WITH THIS. A POOR CHOICE OF WORD?????? FOOT IN MOUTH. F. I. M.

    June 3, 2009 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  25. Drew, FL

    JPC June 3rd, 2009 10:02 am ET wrote:

    Newt made a "poor choice of words"….Sotomayor made a "poor choice of words"…..and the difference IS………

    The difference is on "poor choice of words" was a snippet taken out of context from a 4k+ word speech. The other was a political opportunist going on the attack without having all the facts. The backpedaling confirms it.

    June 3, 2009 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
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