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. Gary Wayne

    There goes Newt again. Seeing now that he played right into Obama's hands and has damaged himself, he now backtracks. Please do us all a favor and run for President in 2012. That way we get to see you go down in massive defeat in 2012.

    June 3, 2009 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  2. Greg PA

    She is a racist. If a white man made that comment he would have no chance.

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

    Take race off the table here. My biggest problem with her comment is the use of the word "wise". I worry about the what's going on in the head of a person who slaps the "wise" label on his or her self. I start to worry about the ego of a candidate who is talking like that to the public.

    June 3, 2009 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  4. Voice uv reesun

    Newt Gingrich eats his words. Thank you, Santa Claus, for coming early this year.

    June 3, 2009 11:11 am at 11:11 am |
  5. ItIsMe

    Way to go, GOP. What complete and total disarray amongst your leadership. I thought it was blasphemy ti "flip-flop".

    Your 'leadership' is a complete American embarrassment. Your best bet is to tell Newton to shut his mouth...

    June 3, 2009 11:11 am at 11:11 am |
  6. strong

    Who cares, it's stale news.

    Let's move on.

    June 3, 2009 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  7. Tony

    Her comment may not have been bigoted, but it was certainly racist and sexist and should be scrutinized accordingly since Obama is openly playing identity politics.

    June 3, 2009 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  8. Carl from MI

    Way to backpeddle, Newt!!

    Get off the stage, Newt.... your 15 minutes of fame is over.

    All the dumb stuff you keep on saying removes all doubt as to what a FOOL you really are. Next please....

    June 3, 2009 11:13 am at 11:13 am |
  9. M - Justice 101


    See how easy it is to misuse words...we ALL continue to make mistakes, and that is why before we hand down heavy judgements against individuals, we examine this thing called "intent".

    June 3, 2009 11:13 am at 11:13 am |
  10. barb

    History has shown that women have not been held as equals by men. As women have advanced into areas where only men have resided or ruled, men find it necessary to pick apart every word and action of women. Newt, Rush, etc. need to get over their superior attitudes.

    June 3, 2009 11:13 am at 11:13 am |
  11. D. Tree

    What a lunatic. If this guy seriously thinks he can be elected president, he is delusional.

    June 3, 2009 11:13 am at 11:13 am |
  12. bravado in boston

    I doubt we would want Mr. Gingrich as our President. He should not run. His Tweets might harm nation security!


    June 3, 2009 11:13 am at 11:13 am |
  13. Robens

    Now you said sorry

    June 3, 2009 11:13 am at 11:13 am |
  14. Kwesoe

    Me thinks Gingrich eats crow!

    June 3, 2009 11:13 am at 11:13 am |
  15. Adrian

    You have to respect someone who admits they were wrong – and does not matter if it was genuine or politically motivated, it still gives a good message.

    June 3, 2009 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  16. kgeukes

    This man keeps steppin' in it and needs to back out of the spotlight...Newt....there's very few people who listen to you and take you seriosly...You need to back out of the room and shut up!!!

    June 3, 2009 11:14 am at 11:14 am |

    Hey Newt you should not have opened your trap at all.

    June 3, 2009 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  18. Lynn

    Gingrich is a hot head trying to get attention; he should heed President Obama's advice and get educated by actually reading the complete speech before opening his mouth.

    The damage done to this very capable judge by his "outrage" can't be erased by his pathetic admission of his knee jerk, hateful reaction.

    Obviously Gingrich is totally unsuitable for public office!!

    June 3, 2009 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  19. Amanda B Reckonwith

    Vintage Gingrich. The most devisive person in America.

    June 3, 2009 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  20. Ted Tartaglia

    The only reason that Newt backed off was because he saw himself walking into a trap of his own making. I am sure he still thinks Sotomayor is a racist. Newt is probably remembering the fight he picked with Clinton which ultimately cost him the Speakership of the House and led to his resigning from Congress.

    As long as the Republican party embraces old fools like Gingrich, Cheney, Limbaugh, McConnell, and Boehner, they will continue to wander in the wilderness.

    June 3, 2009 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  21. mark

    He is correct if a white man made the same comment he would start a firestorm of racial accusations racism is not committed by whites only.

    June 3, 2009 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  22. dickson peter

    Gingrich is one of those Republicans who will always see only the negative of whatever President Obama does. That's why the Republican party is branded a PARTY OF NO. Gingrich and his followers are beginning to realise that this will not do the party any good – there has to be a complete reversal.

    June 3, 2009 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  23. Emma

    What about Limbaugh, Newt's reversal leaves Limbaugh hanging out there all alone. The smart Republicans, those who need to worry about getting re-elected, read the tea leaves and since Newt has ambitions, he too read the tea leaves.

    I believe this is a first, Limbaugh alone fighting the conservative cause and leading blind constituents, excuse me, his radio audience on a ride of hate.

    President Obama is truly a smart politician. Conquer and divide!

    June 3, 2009 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  24. Andres Guevara

    I wonder if Newt will have to give an explanation to Rush.

    June 3, 2009 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  25. Fortytude

    KNows ehn he lost doen't he

    June 3, 2009 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
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