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Key Excerpt: Cornyn and Sotomayor on "Wise Latina" Comment

Excerpt Courtesy of CQ Transcriptions

Watch the exchange:

CORNYN: Good to see you. I recall, when we met in my office, you told me how much you enjoy the back-and-forth that lawyers and judges do. And I appreciate the good humor and attitude that you've brought to this. And I very much appreciate your -- your willingness to serve on the highest court in the land.

I'm afraid that sometimes in the past these hearings have gotten so downright nasty and contentious that some people are dissuaded from willingness to serve, which I think is a great -- is a great tragedy. And, of course, some have been filibustered. They have been denied the opportunity to have an up-or-down vote on the Senate floor.

I told you, when we visited my office, that's not going to happen to you if I have anything to say about it. You will get that up-or- down vote on the Senate floor.

But I want to ask your assistance this morning to try to help us reconcile two pictures that I think have emerged during the course of this hearing. One is, of course, as Senator Schumer and others have talked about, your lengthy tenure on the federal bench as a trial judge and court of appeals judge.

And then there's the other picture that has emerged that -- from your speeches and your other writings. And I need your help trying to reconcile those two pictures, because I think a lot of people have -- have wondered about that.

And I guess the reason why it's even more important that we understand how you reconcile some of your other writings with your judicial experience and tenure as a fact that, of course, now you will not be a lower court judge subject to the appeals to the Supreme Court. You will be free as a United States Supreme Court justice to basically do what you want with no court reviewing those decisions, harkening back to the quote we started with during my opening statement about the Supreme Court being infallible only because it's final.

So I want to just start with the comments that you made about the "wise Latina" speech that, by my count, you made at least five times between 1994 and 2003. You indicated that this was really -- and please correct me if I'm wrong, I'm trying to quote your words -- a, quote, "failed rhetorical flourish that fell flat."

I believe at another time you said they were, quote, "words that don't make sense," close quote. And another time, I believe you said it was, quote, "a bad idea," close quote.

Am I accurately characterizing your thoughts about the use of that -- of that phrase that has been talked about so much?

SOTOMAYOR: Yes, generally. But the point I was making was that Justice O'Connor's words, the ones that I was using as a platform to make my point about the value of experience generally in the legal system, was that her words literally and mine literally made no sense, at least not in the context of what judges do or -- what judges do.

I didn't and don't believe that Justice O'Connor intended to suggest that, when two judges disagree, one of them has to be unwise. And if you read her literal words -- that wise old men and wise old women would come to the same decisions in cases -- that's what the words would mean, but that's clearly not what she meant. And if you listen to my words, it would have the same suggestion that only Latinos would come to wiser decisions.

But that wouldn't make sense in the context much my speech either because I pointed out in the speech that eight, nine white men had decided Brown v. Board of Education.

And I know noted in a separate paragraph of the speech that -- that no one person speaks in the voice of any group. So my rhetorical flourish, just like hers, can't be read literally. It had a different meaning in the context of the entire speech.

CORNYN: But, Judge, she said a wise man and a wise woman would reach the same conclusion. You said that a wise Latina woman would reach a better conclusion than a male counterpart.

What I'm confused about, are you standing by that statement? Or are you saying that it was a bad idea and you -- are you disavowing that statement?

SOTOMAYOR: It is clear from the attention that my words have gotten and the manner in which it has been understood by some people that my words failed. They didn't work. The message that the entire speech attempted to deliver, however, remains the message that I think Justice O'Connor meant, the message that higher nominees, including Justice Alito meant when he said that his Italian ancestry, he considers when he's deciding discrimination cases.

I don't think he meant -- I don't think Justice O'Connor meant that personal experiences compel results in any way. I think life experiences generally, whether it's that I'm a Latina or was a state prosecutor or have been a commercial litigator or been a trial judge and an appellate judge, that the mixture of all of those things, the amalgam of them help me to listen and understand.

But all of us understand because that's the kind of judges we have proven ourself to be, we rely on the law to command the results in the case. So when one talks about life experiences, and even in the context of my speech, my message was different than I understand my words have been understood by some. CORNYN: So you -- do you stand by your words of yesterday when you said it was a failed rhetorical flourish that fell flat? That they are words that don't make sense and that they're a bad idea?

I stand by the words. It fell flat. And I understand that some people have understood them in a way that I never intended. And I would hope that, in the text of the speech, that they would be understood.

Read the entire exchange between Sen. Cornyn and Judge Sotomayor here.

By Washington Post editors  |  July 15, 2009; 9:50 AM ET
Categories:  Hearings , Supreme Court , Topics: Personal Comments & Experiences  
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Next: Key Excerpt: Cornyn and Sotomayor on 1996 Speech


Her original statement was preceded by the words, "I would hope that....". That is not the same as saying, "I think that..." which is how the statement in being interpreted by those opposed to her nomination.

Posted by: akahidden | July 15, 2009 2:30 PM | Report abuse

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