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Key Excerpt: Leahy on Sotomayor's 'Wise Latina' Comment

CQ Transcriptions

LEAHY: During the course of this nomination, there have been some unfortunate comments, including outrageous charges of racism made about you on radio and television. Some -- one person referred to you as being the equivalent of the head of the Ku Klux Klan. Another leader in the other party referred to you as -- as being a bigot.

And to the credit of the senators, the Republican senators as well as the Democratic senators, they have not repeated those charges. But you haven't been able to respond to any of these things. You've had to be quiet. Your critics have taken a line out of your speeches and twisted it, in my view, to mean something you never intended.

You said that, quote, you "would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would reach wise decisions." I remember other justices -- the most recent one, Justice Alito -- talking about the experience of his immigrants -- the immigrants in his family and how that would influence his thinking and help him reach decisions.

What -- and you also said in your speech, I quote, that you "love America and value its lessons," that great things could be achieved in one works hard for it.

And then you said judges must transcend their personal sympathies and prejudices and aspire to achieve a greater degree of the fairness and integrity based on reason of law. And I'll throw one more quote in there. It's what you told me that ultimately and completely, the law is what counts -- or the law is what controls.

So tell us, you've heard all of these charges and countercharges, the wise Latina and on and on. Here's your chance. You tell us -- you tell us what's going on here, Judge.

SOTOMAYOR: Thank you for giving me an opportunity to explain my remarks.

No words I have ever spoken for written have received so much attention.

SOTOMAYOR: I gave a variant of my speech to a variety of different groups, most often to groups of women lawyers or to groups, most particularly, of young Latino lawyers and students.

As my speech made clear in one of the quotes that you reference, I was trying to inspire them to believe that their life experiences would enrich the legal system, because different life experiences and backgrounds always do. I don't think that there is a quarrel with that in our society.

I was also trying to inspire them to believe that they could become anything they wanted to become, just as I had. The context of the words that I spoke have created a misunderstanding, and I want -- and misunderstanding -- and to give everyone assurances, I want to state up front, unequivocally and without doubt, I do not believe that any ethnic, racial or gender group has an advantage in sound judging. I do believe that every person has an equal opportunity to be a good and wise judge regardless of their background or life experiences.

What -- the words that I use, I used agreeing with the sentiment that Justice Sandra Day O'Connor was attempting to convey. I understood that sentiment to be what I just spoke about, which is that both men and women were equally capable of being wise and fair judges.

That has to be what she meant, because judges disagree about legal outcomes all of the time -- or I shouldn't say all of the time, at least in close cases they do. Justices on the Supreme Court come to different conclusions. It can't mean that one of them is unwise, despite the fact that some people think that.

So her literal words couldn't have meant what they said. She had to have meant that she was talking about the equal value of the capacity to be fair and impartial.

Read the entire exchange between Sen. Leahy and Judge Sotomayor.

By washingtonpost.com  |  July 14, 2009; 10:16 AM ET
Categories:  Hearings , Supreme Court , Topics: Personal Comments & Experiences  
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