White House Struggles to Defend Sotomayor’s Race Statement

Thursday, May 28, 2009
By Fred Lucas, Staff Writer
 
White House (CNSNews.com) – Critics of President Barack Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court should be careful how they conduct the debate, warned White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs on Wednesday, as he struggled to explain a 2001 comment by Judge Sonia Sotomayor.
 
Obama nominated Sotomayor on Tuesday to fill the vacancy of retiring Associate Justice David Souter.
 
Among the controversies surrounding Sotomayor is a comment she made during a speech at the University of California-Berkeley School of Law in October 2001.
 
In that speech, she said, “I would hope 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.”
 
Fielding questions for about 10 minutes on Sotomayor’s comment, Gibbs was at times dismissive.
 
“I think we can all move past YouTube snippets and half-sentences and actually look at her honest-to-God record,” he said at one point during the questioning.
 
Throughout the press conference, Gibbs continued to tell reporters to look at her record while being pressed to explain the comment. Gibbs finally said, “She has lived a different life than some people have based on her upbringing.”
 
Gibbs was first asked to respond to a blog-posting by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), who wrote, “Imagine a judicial nominee said, ‘My experience as a white man makes me better than a Latina woman.’ Wouldn’t they have to withdraw? New racism is no better than old racism. A white man racist nominee would be forced to withdraw. Latina woman racist should also withdraw.”
 
Gibbs responded, “I think anyone involved in this debate should probably be exceedingly careful with the way they decide to describe different aspects of this.
 
“We’re satisfied that when the people of America and the people of the Senate get a chance to look at more than just the blog of a former lawmaker, they will come to the same conclusion as the president,” Gibbs said.
 
“When people get a chance to look at her record, partisan politics will take a backseat to common sense and open-minded decisions based on a full examination of the record,” he said.
 
The presidential spokesman continued that the statement must be viewed in context, and said reporters have not read the entire speech.
 
“Americans should read all of what she talked about, read a couple of sentences past that,” Gibbs said.
 
Several reporters immediately said they had done so. Gibbs expressed skepticism toward at least one reporter.
 
In that section of the speech, Sotomayor was speaking specifically about ethnicity. She also was speaking at a symposium entitled, “Raising the Bar: Latino and Latina Presence in the Judiciary and the Struggle for Representation.”
 
“Whether born from experience or inherent physiological or cultural differences, a possibility I abhor less or discount less than my colleague Judge Cedarbaum, our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging,” she said, leading up to the more famous statement.
 
“Justice O’Connor has often been cited as saying that a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases,” said Sotomayor. “I am not so sure Justice O’Connor is the author of that line since Professor Resnik attributes that line to Supreme Court Justice Coyle.
 
“I am also not so sure that I agree with the statement. First, as Professor Martha Minnow has noted, there can never be a universal definition of wise,” she added.
 
At that point, Sotomayor said: “Second, 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.”
 
She followed that up saying, “Let us not forget that wise men like Oliver Wendell Holmes and Justice Cardozo voted on cases which upheld both sex and race discrimination in our society.
 
“Until 1972, no Supreme Court case ever upheld the claim of a woman in a gender discrimination case. I, like Professor Carter, believe that we should not be so myopic as to believe that others of different experiences or backgrounds are incapable of understanding the values and needs of people from a different group,” Sotomayor said.
 
“Many are so capable. As Judge Cedarbaum pointed out to me, nine white men on the Supreme Court in the past have done so on many occasions and on many issues including Brown,” she added.
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