June 3rd, 2009
06:30 PM ET

Sotomayor 'racist'? Hispanic leaders weigh in

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David Puente
AC360° Producer

Initially he called Supreme Court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor a “reverse racist” and wanted her to withdraw from consideration. Newt Gingrich has apologized for his choice of words. Some, including President Obama himself, believe Judge Sotomayor would have also chosen some of her past words differently if she had the chance.

In the conservative magazine Human Events, Gingrich writes this week: "My initial reaction was strong and direct - perhaps too strong and too direct. ... 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. ... The word 'racist' should not have been applied to Judge Sotomayor as a person, even if her words themselves are unacceptable."

According to Gloria Borger, senior political analyst for CNN, Gingrich's apology came because he was feeling the heat from his own party whose members are trying to avoid personal name calling.

Newt Gingrich and others called Sotomayor a racist after learning about her now infamous statement, "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."

I asked some Hispanic leaders to give their opinion on Sotomayor’s statement. Was it a racist statement?

Take a look at their reactions, and give us yours.

Raul Danny Vargas
National Chairman, Republican National Hispanic Assembly
Washington, DC

“Judge Sotomayor’s statements … are no doubt cause for scrutiny at the very least. I assume that she meant that one’s personal experiences have an impact on their perspectives of matters that come before the court, but I’m sure that if she had the opportunity she would want to go back and rephrase her comments…The “racist” term being thrown about in the media right now is probably over-reaching, but she will have to come up with responses that will satisfy those that have some real concerns with her ability to be truly objective. After all, the concept of blind justice, impartiality and the rule of law are fundamental to the role of the Supreme Court. While we have congratulated Judge Sotomayor on her nomination as the first Hispanic nominated to the Supreme Court, and applaud her personal and professional accomplishments, we have called for a fair and thorough scrutiny during the confirmation process.”

Angel Sepúlveda
VP Programming Terra USA
Los Angeles, CA

“Her track record speaks for itself. I don't believe President Obama looked at her as a woman or a Hispanic he simply chose the candidate with the best qualifications to perform a service to this country and looked at best interests of the American people. Judge Sotomayor stems from the hard working people, those that struggled like many Americans and know what it takes to make a difference, to dream and to achieve success. That is a story we can all relate to and it's an example to everyone regardless of race, sex, religious beliefs, etc. I really hope conservative activists and the Republican Party (senators and Congress) take all these facts into consideration before starting (which they already have) a debate as of whether or not she should be confirmed. She is truly the right person for the job! Regardless of the debates and the wildfire banter, the reality is that Judge Sotomayor has a clean record – a record confirmed twice by Republicans and Democrats alike.”

Arnoldo S. Torres
Policy Consultant
Sacramento, CA

“First of all the thought that any jurist is able to ignore their experiences and up-bringing when reviewing, deciding a legal matter is foolish. Up to now the Supreme Court and most of the federal bench has had a one constant type of experiences and up-bringing and others have mostly been non-existent. This is not to say that non-minority jurist are racists anymore than it is to say that Ms. Sotomayor's comments are racist. She is simply making a contrast between the backgrounds that have been in play and those that have not to date. It is impossible to argue that jurist, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, and life experiences do not use their backgrounds on the bench. It is impossible unless you have a reason to oppose someone who is not like those that you have come to expect to serve in this position. So Ms. Sotomayor's comments are not racist but they do honestly reflect a feeling and are an expression of how many minorities who have been excluded from institutions, trades and occupations see themselves.”

Follow David Puente on Twitter @puenteac360

Filed under: 360° Radar • David Puente • Sonia Sotomayor
soundoff (11 Responses)
  1. Heather

    If a white male judge had said that being white and male would allow him to make wiser decisions then a latina woman, the media would be foaming at the mouth! There would be prostest marches in the streets!

    I am willing to bet we would even have heard from Al Sharpton by now!

    June 3, 2009 at 8:03 pm |
  2. Annie Kate

    I think Sotomeyer could have rephrased her statement but I understand what she meant and don't see why people are making such a big deal out of it. If there is someone who has never said something in a way they have not regretted later they might have room to criticize but since we have all done this at least once in our lifetime, we need to be understanding and move on.

    June 3, 2009 at 7:58 pm |
  3. Lesley Anne

    @ Kim – are you saying that the white men who have dominated the Supreme Court since forever don't use their own experiences when making decisions? Does that make them white supremacists? Your argument is faulty. If you research her record, you will see that she applies the law without considering race or other "minority" or "hispanic" factors.

    June 3, 2009 at 7:46 pm |
  4. Lampe

    It is one thing for your ethnic background, or your gender to influence your beliefs. When it becomes a problem, is when you say that it will. Had she said "My experience as a female judge, might give me a better understanding of somethings as oppose to a male judge," I don't believe there would be this misunderstanding. But, it is now her responsibility to come out, and say exactly what she meant. A White Judge, would have never never gotten away with those same remarks. And,it is really a shame is that most people know this, but won't admit to it.

    June 3, 2009 at 7:40 pm |
  5. Curtney

    Newt Gingrich is not sorry for anything. He knew what he said was inflammatory. He called Judge Sonia Sotomayor a reverse racist and he meant it. The real question is why now the switch? What does he hope to gain by this so called "apology".

    June 3, 2009 at 7:33 pm |
  6. Joanna

    What Arnoldo Torres said was very accurate. It is unrealistic for justice to ever be blind and completely impartial. Every judge is a human being with past experiences, both personal and political, that will influence their decisions. They also have strong belief systems that make an impression on them. Anyone that thinks otherwise is extremely naive. Just consider the local judges that are elected to their benches. You know they are influenced by those elections when making their decisions. Yes, Sotomayor made a bad choice of words, but those of us with any common sense understand her meaning behind those words.

    June 3, 2009 at 7:12 pm |
  7. Kim

    I personally think it's silly to ask Hispanic leaders to voice their opinions. I resent their comments actually, it's really a waste of time to read it. Ofcourse President Obama considered her gender and position in the courthouse. It's pretty obvious they would remain on Sotomayor's side and pledge her as a great choice for a Supreme Court nominee. I also agree with Gloria Borger, senior analyst for CNN. Ofcourse Newt Gingrich is going to apologize. Everyone is breathing fire on his neck to apologize for his outburst. While I don't think the comment is necessarily racist, I do believe that Sotomayor is a racist. If there were to be a case where a minority is involved, especially a hispanic, who do you think she would side with? Exactly.

    June 3, 2009 at 7:10 pm |
  8. tmgesq

    Perhaps if the media would recount what Judge Sotomayor said in its entirety, this ridiculous notion of her being "racist" would not be an issue. The full context of what she said makes complete sense. Each judge brings his or her personal experience to the bench. Her rulings as both a district court and appellate court judge clearly indicate that she is not "racist."

    June 3, 2009 at 7:01 pm |
  9. Linda Bowen

    I myself didn't take the statement Sotomayor made the same way most people do. To me I felt she was more referring to the difference between the decisions a woman would make as opposed to a man's decisions. And In my opinion I think that might be correct statement . After all..look where we are today. I hope she's confirmed. I think she's an excellent choice.

    June 3, 2009 at 6:59 pm |
  10. Ed Cole

    Privilege or the lack thereof impacts every decision and attitude of all of us. How we act can and should be based on that experience and new facts.

    June 3, 2009 at 6:58 pm |
  11. Jessica

    I am extemely please that Newt Gingrich has apologized for his choice of words. The last thing Republicans need to do is to exclude the Latin community from the party. As long as you have these loud mouth, naysayers pointing fingers and spewing off, they damage the party as a whole. Good for him in recognizing his error...of course, under pressure. However, it came about is not as important as that he retracted his comments! As a latin businesswomen, I could not be any prouder of the Judge for coming so far with so little chance. The family unit made it possible along with others who believed in her. I believe in Judge Sotomayor too!

    June 3, 2009 at 6:54 pm |

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