June 3rd, 2009
12:30 PM ET
13 years ago

Gingrich: I shouldn't have called Sotomayor 'racist'

[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) - A week after sparking a political firestorm with a line on Twitter, Newt Gingrich is looking to cool the controversy in print.

Last week, the former House Speaker alluded to a line in a 2001 speech by Judge Sonia Sotomayor, in which President Obama's Supreme Court pick said she hoped that a "wise Latina woman with the richness of her experience would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."

Gingrich tweeted: "Imagine a judicial nominee said 'my experience as a white man makes me better than a latina woman.' new racism is no better than old racism" and "White man racist nominee would be forced to withdraw. Latina woman racist should also withdraw."

(Update: Sen. Jeff Sesssions Reaction)

The comments illuminated a strategy divide in GOP ranks over the Supreme Court fight, with high-profile faces like Gingrich and conservative host Rush Limbaugh highlighting what they called Sotomayor's racially divisive remarks, and leaders like National Republican Senatorial Committee John Cornyn urging the party to back away from that line of attack.

On Wednesday, Gingrich penned a lengthy op-ed in conservative Human Events that seemed to back away from his initial reaction.

"Shortly after President Obama nominated her to a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court, I read Judge Sonia Sotomayor's now famous words: '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,'" he wrote.

"My initial reaction was strong and direct - perhaps too strong and too direct. 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.

"With these critics who want to have an honest conversation, I agree. The word 'racist' should not have been applied to Judge Sotomayor as a person, even if her words themselves are unacceptable (a fact which both President Obama and his Press Secretary, Robert Gibbs, have since admitted)."

President Obama and White House aides said Sotomayor's choice of words was a poor one, but immediately fought back against critics who branded the judge racist.

"I think it is probably important for anybody involved in this debate to be exceedingly careful with the way in which they've decided to describe different aspects of this impending confirmation," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said last Wednesday.

UPDATE: Sen. Jeff Sessions, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, praised Gingrich's decision to revisit his original statements. "I'm very glad he backed off," he told Dana Bash Wednesday, in a CNN exclusive. "I think that's unusual, that commentators do that, and I think it was very good that he did. I think that will... help us. I think that will help us have a real good discussion about the serious issues that the nations faces and the court faces."

Filed under: Newt Gingrich • Sonia Sotomayor • Supreme Court
soundoff (305 Responses)
  1. Frank, FL

    No, really? Someone who's running for the presidency should not have called a Supreme Court nominee a racist? Really Sherlock?

    Don't worry Newt, we know the devil made you do it. In this case the devil is Rush Limbreath, your leader.

    See you in the losers column in 2012.

    June 3, 2009 09:24 am at 9:24 am |
  2. Sniffit

    That's ok Newty-poo...we desperately need opinionated partisan leaders who fly off the handle and say stupid, offensive things before they're privy to all the facts and have taken the time to reflect deeply on what would constitute a reasonable, rational, responsible response. Not.

    June 3, 2009 09:24 am at 9:24 am |
  3. Terry

    It should be obvious to everyone that Conservatives want the Obama Administration to fail and for our economy and our personal lives to suffer as a result. That is the only way to prevent his reelection.

    The twin goals of Conservatism are increased wealth for the upper class and increased power for the Conservative leadership. There are no other goals. We can tell this because their actions are only directed toward their goals.

    Their rhetoric, designed to entice us to vote for them, has no connection to their goals. From 1994 through 2006, Conservatives controlled the Congress. From 2000 – 2008, the controlled the presidency. During that time, what did they do to reduce the size of government, limit the power of the federal government, increase fiscal responsibility, reduce the debt, balance the budget, pass a gay marriage amendment, pass a flag burning amendment, etc.? Answer: nothing.

    The people who voted for them were suckers.

    June 3, 2009 09:24 am at 9:24 am |
  4. david

    newt needs to go away. he is dishonorable, lacks integrity. at a time when the nation sought to impeach clinton, because of monica, newt was cheating on his then wife, enjoying an adulterous relationship. yet newt was on board for impeaching clinton. why anyone listens to newt is a mystery to me. same goes for rush, the prescription drug addict whether current of fomer addict. no one is perfect, for sure. but these two men presented themselves as something they were not only to be found out later. both are liars and lack any credibility. not a fan of sotomayor but criticism should not be coming from newt or rush.

    June 3, 2009 09:25 am at 9:25 am |
  5. Chuck

    Too late, Newt. You're dismissed and we demand your resignation, otherwise, you're fired.

    June 3, 2009 09:26 am at 9:26 am |
  6. RobK

    Glad to see Newt backing off on his comments. Too often people who utter a racist or insensitive remark are branded racist, even if their whole life experience is opposite to that. Most often this happens to white people, but as we've seen here, the same charge can be leveled against people of color and minorities.

    June 3, 2009 09:27 am at 9:27 am |
  7. mtv

    Oh so after you get a lot on feedback on your Bigmouth now you realize what you said was wrong???? Hypocrite and you are also and IDIOT!!!!!

    June 3, 2009 09:28 am at 9:28 am |
  8. Larry

    People like old Newt will never change ...

    They will only change their story ...

    The Republican party is dead in the eyes of educated Americans ...

    Their BS smells and we all know it ...

    Americans finally see, the real Republican party ...

    Arrogant, Racist, Self centered, Liars, Cheats, The Party Of NO Good

    June 3, 2009 09:28 am at 9:28 am |
  9. Marc M

    Don't apologize, she is a racist.

    Her comments ARE her.

    June 3, 2009 09:28 am at 9:28 am |
  10. No Grumpy White Guy

    Yeah, and I shouldn't have called you a grumpy old white guy.

    June 3, 2009 09:29 am at 9:29 am |
  11. Stephanie

    Now see, here's the problem with taking a grand total of 36 words from a full 4000-word speech to nitpick: lots and LOTS of backpedaling.

    June 3, 2009 09:29 am at 9:29 am |
  12. SN in MN

    But if she were White and made the equivalent statement, she'd be outa' here.

    June 3, 2009 09:29 am at 9:29 am |
  13. Jim, Burlington NC

    This is Newt "Serial Philanderer " Gingrich, instead of criticizing a person who has actually through hard work lifted themselves to almost the highest level of their profession he should be asking God for forgiveness of his sins of adultry.

    June 3, 2009 09:29 am at 9:29 am |
  14. Maggie from Virginia

    Too late... Don't even think about running in 2012. You can kiss the presidency goodbye.

    June 3, 2009 09:30 am at 9:30 am |
  15. Dan, TX

    Newt Gingrich is an arrogant man. Maybe he should be a supreme court justice – his life experience would give him empathy for aldulterers.

    June 3, 2009 09:31 am at 9:31 am |
  16. Maria from VT

    Too late now Speaker Gingrich!

    June 3, 2009 09:31 am at 9:31 am |
  17. Seattle Sue

    I do not believe anything this sorry excuse of a man says. If he thinks he has a chance of becoming President in 2012 , he is more delusional than I imagined.

    June 3, 2009 09:32 am at 9:32 am |
  18. Jim

    So her choice of words was poor, and so was his. We're all equal now, right?

    June 3, 2009 09:32 am at 9:32 am |
  19. Tom, Cary NC

    Of course she is racist – As Newt said – imagine a white judge saying that he makes better decisions because he is white! I CHALLENGE any liberal to say with a straight face that they wouldn't hound a white nominee who made such a horrible comment as a racist.

    June 3, 2009 09:32 am at 9:32 am |
  20. Keefe

    It's absolutely amazing that Newt Gingrich thinks that backing off his earlier statements will be water under the bridge.....

    Well Newt, the damage has been done, just ask Sarah Palin, once that damage is done, there's no coming back.....

    Sarah Palin went around the country referring to certain parts as Real America, and at the sametime insighting an almost Violent Crowd into frenzy's with Hatred of Obama.....

    Newt you might as well see if you can vacation up in Alaska, go do some Moose Hunting with Sarah Palin, cuase you sure won't be winning any type of elections here in the lower 48 states after the things you've said and done....

    June 3, 2009 09:33 am at 9:33 am |
  21. Dew5050

    Who cares? Gingrich is finished! His words carries no weight!

    June 3, 2009 09:33 am at 9:33 am |
  22. RobK

    Anyone that says that women or minorities are always more empathetic than white males should be called on it, including Justice Ginsburg. There are plenty of women who have zero empathy and there are plenty of white males who tear up over a squirrel hit by a car. The only ones that know how much empathy Judge Sotomayor has are those that interact with her on a regular basis.

    June 3, 2009 09:33 am at 9:33 am |
  23. Carole

    Right on, Newt. In the dictionary the term 'racist' describes a true racist, and there is a picture of your hero Ron Reagan. Ron Reagan is the true racist, with voodo economics, government deregulation which we see now that you can't let certain industries just run amuck.

    I remember when it was found out that Newt used a Hitler Nazi handbook on how to gain power for his party the Rethugs.

    Newt is a 'racist" and 'cheater' on his third wife.

    June 3, 2009 09:33 am at 9:33 am |
  24. Danny E. Gonzalez

    you know what gets to me? The former speaker is an intelligent guy; he clearly misses being in politics and I imagine that he has high aspirations still in the political arena... but when you have people shoot from the hip like he did it is hard to begin a dialog. I have heard some many people in both sides use bitter words towards one another and towards Judge Sotomayor... this is not the way to make our democracy work.. I hope that the former speaker can be a part of the discussion, however in a more civil way. I'm a Dem, but I choose not to chastize people who disagree with me... perhaps he can learn that too...

    June 3, 2009 09:34 am at 9:34 am |
  25. Irma in North Carolina

    To late Newt you and Rush already did the damage to your party. There is no way you can correct it. Why dont you and Rush go up and join Sarah in Alaska. You three are all alike. I think your paerty should be ashamed of you and you want to run for president. It will be interesting to see the debates and how you put Sarah down. Newt do you realize there are only 21 percent of the people who claim theirselves as republicans. Each time you guys open your mouth you will keep going down.

    June 3, 2009 09:34 am at 9:34 am |
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