The Trail: A Daily Diary of Campaign 2008

Archives

Supreme Court

Leahy Asks Sotomayor to Clarify 'Wise Latina' Remark

By Shailagh Murray
In his first meeting this morning with Sonia Sotomayor, Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy asked the Supreme Court nominee to clarify a controversial statement that has drawn heavy Republican criticism.

The Vermont Democrat said he asked the 54-year-old judge what she meant when she stated in a 2001 University of California-Berkeley speech, "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."

Some conservatives, including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, have interpreted the statement to mean that Sotomayor relies on personal experiences in her judicial decision making; a few even suggest it carries racist overtones. Leahy said he asked Sotomayor for clarification. He said the nominee responded, "Of course one's life experience shapes who you are," but she added, "Ultimately and completely, a judge has to follow the law no matter what their upbringing has been."

The ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, met later with Sotomayor, and said she used similar language when he asked her about "the concept of personal feelings to some degree, how that influenced a decision, how it should not."

But Sessions said the two spent more time discussing Sotomayor's legal career, as well as "the moral authority of laws and judges." Sessions said "she discussed that forthrightly and I thought in an effective way." The senator said he expected the two would meet again, once he has a chance to review her nomination dossier, including more than 3,000 decisions from the federal bench. "I enjoyed the conversation," said Sessions. "I think she did."

Posted at 1:40 PM ET on Jun 2, 2009  | Category:  Supreme Court
Share This: Technorati talk bubble Technorati | Tag in Del.icio.us | Digg This
Previous: Obama's Middle East Trip a Balancing Act | Next: High Expectations for Obama's Cairo Speech


Add 44 to Your Site
Be the first to know when there's a new installment of The Trail. This widget is easy to add to your Web site, and it will update every time there's a new entry on The Trail.
Get This Widget >>


Comments

Please email us to report offensive comments.



Her statement read in the context of the entire speech is purely a reference in a case study--to clarify a point-of view.

As people are differemt, so are our interpretations of how we see/understand the world. On this, one can only hope a second, third, reading of her speech will prove not what most in opposition, thinks she is. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K0l2OS04K-A

Posted by: Victoria5 | June 3, 2009 1:34 AM

There would be not contraversy if she had said "I've played tennis all my life and that should give me an advantage in judging tennis." But many people think that a puerto-rican woman judge cannot have any possible advantage in judging race and gender cases. In her full response, she correctly said “Let us not forget that wise men like Oliver Wendell Holmes and Justice [Benjamin] 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. 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.”

The firefighter case was an unfortunate case where the majority of judges chose to uphold existing law and precedent. Very likely it will be over-turned at the SupremeCourt, which is the right place for judicial activism, if it must occur at all.

Posted by: YoungAtheart | June 2, 2009 7:10 PM

There would be not contraversy if she had said "I've played tennis all my life and that should give me an advantage in judging tennis." But many people think that a puerto-rican woman judge cannot have any possible advantage in judging race and gender cases. In her full response, she correctly said “Let us not forget that wise men like Oliver Wendell Holmes and Justice [Benjamin] 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. 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.”

The firefighter case was an unfortunate case where the majority of judges chose to uphold existing law and precedent. Very likely it will be over-turned at the SupremeCourt, which is the right place for judicial activism, if it must occur at all.

Posted by: YoungAtheart | June 2, 2009 7:08 PM

tbastian-

Very well said. I am an independently minded liberal and I believe strongly in the role of the court as a non-political entity to interpret the law.

I also read her statement and agree with her to the extent that diversity on the bench serves the concept of "E Pluribus Unum" - out of many, we are one.

You said: "The real issue is how does a Supreme Court Justice rule on law."

I absolutely agree with you. Which is why I disagree with those who suggest that her race or her background should disqualify her.

Posted by: JohnQuimby | June 2, 2009 6:10 PM

Bork her already!

Posted by: XLiberalJack | June 2, 2009 6:06 PM

As a conservative republican I agree that her comments are a "little troubling" but when actually looking at the context of the speach it would seem a logical statement for her to make and not out of line given her upbringing and background. The real issue is how does a Supreme Court Justice rule on law. Is it for social engineering or is it strictly on the laws. Judges don't make law or change them to suit their specific needs or feelings... which has to be one of the toughest jobs out there.

I think the process currently is working as it should and further exploration of her record and how she judges from the bench will provide all of the answers. I am not going to pass judgement on her at this point until I learn more. I understand the concern over the firefighter case ( which would be a complete outrage for someone to rule in that manner ) but if I understood correctly there was a prior ruling or law which forced that decision. If you truly judge based on the law strictly you would have to follow it whether you agreed with it or not.

But, if I am wrong please correct me.. I am sure you will..

Posted by: tbastian | June 2, 2009 5:34 PM

Quit lying, her comments are clearly racist. But why rely on her comments, look at her actions--her decision on the firefighters case is a good example. Anytime the rule of law is subverted, liberty is lost. Bias in the application of the law to ANY group, subverts the law. The proper response is to change the law in the legislature not at the bench. In other words, not only are her comments racist, the context of her comments makes them even more racist; in fact, her speech's whole thesis is flawed.

Posted by: DuhOK | June 2, 2009 4:38 PM

There is the law, and there is judgement, thus the reason that they are called judges, because presumably they are capable of exercising their judgement based on an extensive knowledge of the law. But though the law must be paramount, judgements involve many factors, many areas of knowledge and experience. Judge Sotomayor is clearly saying in her speech that having women and minorities on the bench brings more just judgements for women and minorities. What could be less controversial? If this is all that Republicans can dredge up, she must be the most carefully-spoken judge to have ever lived.

Posted by: nfrengle | June 2, 2009 4:37 PM

Comment on: Sotomayor Prepares to Meet With Key Senators at 6/2/2009 7:12 AM EDT
At issue is a 2001 statement in which Sotomayor expressed 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."


Sotomayor is a racist, is she going to be a justice for all of us or just a justice for a few of us ?

As MLK says "NO JUSTICE NO PEACE"

Posted by: fan2lee1 | June 2, 2009 4:17 PM

The Senator - and anyone else interested - should read the full text of Judge Sotomayor's speech to see that this quote, while perhaps overstated, is given at the end of a long speech describing the positive impact that a diverse judiciary has on cases affecting minority groups. In this speech Judge Sotomayor points out that the presence of cultural minorities and women on the bench (and in the legal profession in general) has resulted in greater justice for women and minorities ... ie, "better conclusions" (to use her words), better rulings for minorities than have been historically handed down by courts comprised exclusively of white males.

Find the text to the whole speech here, courtesy of the New York Times:
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/15/us/politics/15judge.text.html

Read in the context of a whole speech with a thesis that a diverse judiciary brings about "better conclusions" and more justice, her hope that a wise Latina could make a better decision than a white male makes sense ... because she all but demonstrates that this indeed is the case, that courts with minorities and women make "better" (ie, more just) decisions for minorities and women.

Posted by: chrisduckworth | June 2, 2009 4:16 PM

Good luck, Sonia. We are pulling for you.

Posted by: robinhood2 | June 2, 2009 3:07 PM

No clarification needed. It was an innocuous and entirely un-controversial remark.

http://www.political-buzz.com/

Posted by: parkerfl1 | June 2, 2009 2:47 PM

Skip the trivia. Where in DC did Judge Sotomayor eat lunch?

See

http://notionscapital.wordpress.com/2009/06/02/here-comes-the-judge/

Posted by: MikeLicht | June 2, 2009 2:04 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 

© 2009 The Washington Post Company