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. Gravitas

    He's thinking about 2012 now. Should have thought before you opened your trap. Not that he's gonna make it through the Iowa caucus anyway. Give it up Newt, you are irrelevant.

    June 3, 2009 10:47 am at 10:47 am |
  2. Ray

    Mr. Gingrich may be victim of his own prejudice. Be careful who you call racist. If you are wrong, you may look like a racist yourself.

    June 3, 2009 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
  3. Wood

    Brilliant. This is from a guy who hopes to be taken seriously as a candidate for the office of the presidency in 2012. Jerk.

    June 3, 2009 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  4. Expat American

    On the contrary, Newt. Keep talking. The GOP can't be buried and forgotten fast enough....What happened to those great videos of the Palin Slack Jaws? Are there any new ones? They were a global hit!

    June 3, 2009 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  5. Jason

    Coward! and to think I once thought I vote for Newt for President. Either the woman is a racist or not and that has nothing to do with whether or not pointing it out causes a public controversy. This is why I no longer stomach the Republican Party. They have no principles anymore other than those dictated by public opinion polls.

    Newt, it's time for a new Republican Revolution but this time you're on the losing end.

    June 3, 2009 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  6. Retired Army in San Antonio

    'Newt the Hoot' backs off his 'knee-jerk' statement.......and he should've.

    Maybe........just MAYBE.........next time he'll engage his brain before he shoots of at the mouth!

    June 3, 2009 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  7. coach

    And he wants to be viewed as a leader?

    June 3, 2009 10:50 am at 10:50 am |
  8. Joel

    Whatever Newt! You've already spoke your mind and if for political reasons you are now changing your words it doesn't matter. Your GOP is now becoming a southern regional party and will soon become irrelevant. That's all.

    June 3, 2009 10:50 am at 10:50 am |
  9. VGal

    Too late. You're run for Pres is over. She'll be confirmed and this will come back to haunt you – with both women and latinos.

    June 3, 2009 10:50 am at 10:50 am |
  10. Bill/CA

    Kudos for Newt for the course correction. He's right, though, her comments may not have been racist, but they are entirely unacceptable.

    June 3, 2009 10:50 am at 10:50 am |
  11. Sylvia

    This man should never call anyone a "RACIST", especially when he is one of the biggest racist, after Rush Limbaugh, in the GOP. His background is not that stellar either since he has shown that he is a cheater and has mistreated his sick wife to fool around with another woman. This is the GOP's MO. Criticized and demonize everyone else, but they do not look themselves in the mirror for doing worse.

    June 3, 2009 10:50 am at 10:50 am |
  12. Jack Flannigan

    I'm pleased to hear that Mr. Gingrich has offered an apology. Now that Mr. Gingrich and Ms. Sotomayor's backers have made concessions in this matter it is possible to move forward and debate the confirmation in the proper framework. It is quite possible that civility is not dead.

    June 3, 2009 10:50 am at 10:50 am |
  13. therealmarie

    What a cowardly creep.

    June 3, 2009 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  14. Right Wing Fringe

    mexican/latin polling data must have proved devastating for the these rebublican idiots.

    June 3, 2009 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  15. Tom

    WOW newt

    now if all of you retard conservatives would grow a cerebrum.

    June 3, 2009 10:52 am at 10:52 am |
  16. JUDE CT

    There you go Mr Newt, your political career is OVER.. you're an has been and that's where you would remain.

    June 3, 2009 11:05 am at 11:05 am |
  17. Chris

    So, Newt now you figured you should have read up on her before you went shooting off at the mouth!!! I honestly think if all the Politician and Political Pundit would FIRST research the issue, person, or what ever it may be they are about to spout off at the mouth about the country would be better off. THINK FIRST!!! Then SPEAK!!

    June 3, 2009 11:06 am at 11:06 am |
  18. Bill or Vin from Philly

    Gringorich you better kiss some latino ass if you want there votes,

    June 3, 2009 11:06 am at 11:06 am |
  19. felicia

    "I know" because if that ain't the pot calling the kettle black, what a hypocrite.

    June 3, 2009 11:07 am at 11:07 am |
  20. Larry

    This right wing conservative hasbeen should just go away with the rest of the right wing arm of the republican party.

    June 3, 2009 11:07 am at 11:07 am |
  21. Kevin B

    Once again the GOP slime machine has had to back pedal on its shrill rhetoric and hateful name calling.

    However it is too late, the damage has been done and republicans will pay dearly in '10 and '12 at the polls.

    Please keep up great work Mr Gingrich and Limbaugh, Mr Obama and the dem's really appreciate all of your efforts.

    June 3, 2009 11:07 am at 11:07 am |
  22. Kelby In Houston, TX

    This is a small step backward in the Republican's steady march obscurity and extinction. I'm impressed. Usually when a repub says something stupid they don't have the guts or the inclination to correct it or even acknowledge that they were wrong.

    June 3, 2009 11:08 am at 11:08 am |
  23. John Z.

    And Gingrich is considering running for president in 2012? I don't think anyone wants a president who doesn't think before he speaks.

    June 3, 2009 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  24. Lynda/Minnesota

    Wow, Newt. How obtuse of you to notice that you will need the support of the Hispanic community in your presidental run of 2012.

    By calling one of their own a racist, you jeopardized all with your typical knee jerk reaction and negative comments, didn't you?

    June 3, 2009 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  25. giniajim

    Good on Newt. Every so often Newt does something that shows he can be a grown-up. Takes a strong person to back off a mistake. He's one of the few commentators that I make a point of reading.

    June 3, 2009 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
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