Media imagine scorn "white male" would receive for equivalent of Sotomayor's "wise Latina" remarks

››› ››› NATHAN TABAK

Some media figures have postulated that if a white male or a conservative had made the equivalent of Sonia Sotomayor's "wise Latina" remark, they would be branded a racist, "run out of town," "properly banished from polite society," or "railroaded off the [judicial] bench."

In the days since President Obama announced the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, many media figures have misrepresented the following statement Sotomayor made in a 2001 speech at the University of California at Berkeley Law School: "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." In doing so, some media figures have postulated that if a white male or a conservative had said the reverse -- that a white male would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a Latina -- they would be branded a racist, "run out of town," "properly banished from polite society," or "railroaded off the [judicial] bench."

As Reason magazine contributing editor Julian Sanchez wrote on his personal blog, "[I]t would be weird for a white man to say it because it's probably not true that the experience of growing up as a white male in the United States specifically enhances one's understanding of what it means to be a disfavored minority":

On a related note, I find the "what if a white man said that?" move incredibly grating about 99 percent of the time it's used, because it's almost always a way of blotting out all the reasons that it would, in fact, be different. In the instance, it would be weird for a white man to say it because it's probably not true that the experience of growing up as a white male in the United States specifically enhances one's understanding of what it means to be a disfavored minority. In other words, it just wouldn't be true or reasonable in this case -- though it might be for a white male who grew up as a religious or ethnic minority somewhere else in the world. So yes, sometimes formally gramatically equivalent statements will have different connotations depending on whether it's a white person speaking about whites or a Latino speaking about Latinos, because history happened.

The following media figures that have repeated some variation of this claim:

  • In a May 23 National Journal article (subscription required), Stuart Taylor cited Sotomayor's 2001 quote, then claimed: "Any prominent white male would be instantly and properly banished from polite society as a racist and a sexist for making an analogous claim of ethnic and gender superiority or inferiority. ... Imagine the reaction if someone had unearthed in 2005 a speech in which then-Judge Samuel Alito had asserted, for example: 'I would hope that a white male with the richness of his traditional American values would reach a better conclusion than a Latina woman who hasn't lived that life' -- and had proceeded to speak of 'inherent physiological or cultural differences.' "
  • On the May 26 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio program, Rush Limbaugh posed a hypothetical: "Chief Justice John Roberts, in another speech, said, 'I would hope that a wise white man with the richness of his experience would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a Latina female who hasn't lived the rich white man's life.' Do you think there would be any dispute that John Roberts had made a racist statement?"
  • Appearing on the May 26 edition of Fox News' Glenn Beck, Ethics and Public Policy Center president and National Review Online contributor M. Edward Whelan said of Sotomayor's remark: "Well, any white male who made the equivalent of that statement would readily be indicted for racism."
  • On the May 26 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier, syndicated columnist and Fox News contributor Charles Krauthammer said of Sotomayor: "She's a person who said in a speech that she would hope that a Latina -- wise Latina woman would have -- would come to better conclusions as a judge than a white male. I mean, imagine if you heard someone say the reverse. He'd be run out of town as a racist and a sexist."
  • On the May 26 edition of Lou Dobbs Tonight, host Lou Dobbs asked CNN senior analyst Jeffrey Toobin: "If one were to invert those words and say that a white male with the richness of his experience would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a Latina woman, would that make him a racist and a sexist?"
  • In a May 27 column for The Denver Post, Vincent Carroll cited Taylor, writing:

Putting that statement "in context" or explaining what she "really meant" will not do. Nor can Judge Sotomayor credibly argue that her assertion was an ill-considered mistake, since it was part of a prepared speech at the Berkeley school of law. No, she needs to reject it as the expression of bigotry that it was.

Even then she'd be getting off easy. After all, as Stuart Taylor wrote last weekend in the National Journal, "Any prominent white male would be instantly and properly banished from polite society as a racist and a sexist for making an analogous claim of ethnic and gender superiority or inferiority."

Carroll added: "Once again, can you imagine a prominent white male saying such a thing without a legion of critics demanding that he do public penance?"

  • A May 27 Washington Examiner editorial said of Sotomayor's comment: "It is not hard to imagine the outcry that would greet a white male nominee who suggested that his ethnicity and experience would enable him to reach better conclusions than a minority who had lived a different sort of life. He would be dismissed as a racist, and rightly so. Is President Obama now asking that we look the other way when blatant racism comes from an Hispanic woman of otherwise solid achievement?"
  • In a May 27 post on his Twitter feed, Fox News contributor and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich commented: "Imagine a judicial nominee said 'my experience as a white man makes me better than a latina woman' new racism is no better than old racism." In a follow-up post, Gingrich added: "White man racist nominee would be forced to withdraw. Latina woman racist should also withdraw."
  • On the May 27 edition of his Fox News program, Sean Hannity cited Taylor and Gingrich, asking guest Julie Menin: "This would never be tolerated by a white male. Why do you, as a liberal, accept this double standard?" Hannity twice repeated the hypothetical, asking Menin: "To use the Newt Gingrich example, 'My experience as a white man makes me better than a Latina woman.' If anybody said that, would they have any chance today of getting on the court?" Hannity subsequently said to Menin: "And if a white male said that, you liberals would be excoriating them."
  • In a May 28 Wall Street Journal column, Karl Rove wrote:

Republicans also get a nominee who likes showing off and whose YouTube moments and Google insights cause people to wince. There are likely to be more revelations like Stuart Taylor's find last Saturday of this Sotomayor gem in a speech at Berkeley: "I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion [as a judge] than a white male who hasn't lived that life." Invert the placement of "Latina woman" and "white male" and have a conservative say it: A career would be finished.

  • In a May 29 column, Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass said of Sotomayor's 2001 comment: "What would happen if I began a column about the corrosive effects of government-sanctioned racism with the following idiotic idea? 'I would hope that a wise white man with the richness of his experience would more often than not reach a better conclusion than an African-American or Latino who hasn't lived that life.' If I wrote such nonsense, I'd be denounced as a racist. And President Barack Obama would never nominate me to the Supreme Court."
  • On the May 29 edition of Fox News Radio's Brian and the Judge, Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace said, in reference to Sotomayor's remark:

I don't think [Sotomayor's remark will be fatal to her nomination]. It's certainly not very smart of her to have said. And I think it's troubling. You know, it troubles me. And I think, you know, the best thing to do in any of these cases is just reverse it and say, "How would it have been if somebody had said, you know, 'A wise white judge -- white male judge would come to a better decision, a better conclusion than a Latino judge'?" You know, and of course that would be considered hate speech and just awful, and a judge would be railroaded off the bench if they said that.

So, I mean, I think it's legitimately troubling, but I don't think at this point a single statement like that is -- and, you know, she'll have a smart, carefully written, scripted response to that when she testifies before the Senate Judiciary.

  • On the May 29 edition of MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell Reports, MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan said: "If Sam Alito had said, 'I think given their life's experience and the richness of it, white males will make better decisions than Latina females,' he would be out. He would be finished."

From the May 26 edition of Fox News' Glenn Beck:

BECK: Here's what our Supreme Court justice nominee said in a lecture at UC-Berkeley School of Law in 2001. She said, "I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion as a judge than a white male who hasn't lived that life."

Gosh, that smacks of racism, but maybe it's just me, Ed.

WHELAN: Well, any white male who made the equivalent of that statement would readily be indicted for racism. Look, what she's talking about is that it is perfectly acceptable for her to draw on her own values in deciding what the law means. That's a recipe for lawlessness.

And we see that, actually, when we look at the way she decided an important case that's now pending before the Supreme Court involving firefighters in New Haven, who are denied promotions on the basis of their race.

From the May 26 edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight:

DOBBS: Well, joining me now our senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin. Jeffrey is the author of the widely praised best-seller The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court. Jeffrey, good to have you here. No surprise at all about Sotomayor.

TOOBIN: She was at the top of everyone's list. One reason why it took her so long to get confirmed in 1998 is that Republicans even then knew that she looked like a possible Supreme Court nominee, and here she is.

DOBBS: And here she is, which appears, at least to me, to be a statement of President Obama's confidence in his own political strength here. The statement, your reaction to it -- that "a Latina woman with a" -- and those are her words, a "Latina woman"; "a Latina" would have sufficed -- "with the richness of her experience would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male."

If one were to invert those words and say that a white male with the richness of his experience would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a Latina woman, would that make him a racist and a sexist?

TOOBIN: It would certainly sound bad. I've actually read the full context of that quote. What she's saying --

DOBBS: As have I. As have I.

TOOBIN: Well, OK. But what she's saying is that it's a good thing to have a diverse bench and that's what --

DOBBS: I know that's what she's saying --

TOOBIN: That's right.

DOBBS: -- in context. And it doesn't change what she said.

TOOBIN: That's true.

DOBBS: Is that a sexist and racist -- potentially sexist and racist comment?

TOOBIN: I don't think it is in the slightest.

DOBBS: So you would have no problem with a white male inverting that sentence?

TOOBIN: I have to hear the context of what the white male said.

From the May 29 edition of Fox News Radio's Brian & the Judge:

BRIAN KILMEADE (co-host): Lanny Davis is coming out and saying the White House has to go out and say that this judge, Sontamayor [sic], will have to -- has to explain herself or apologize for this statement, that "I would hope that a wise Latina woman in the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived her life."

ANDREW NAPOLITANO (co-host): Wow.

KILMEADE: That statement has people like Larry Sabato saying, "Come out, don't tap dance around it. Take it back."

NAPOLITANO: And it also has people like Newt Gingrich calling her a racist. Who better to talk about all of this than the person who lives and works at the ground zero of these things, inside the Beltway in D.C., our good friend and colleague Chris Wallace.

Chris, welcome back to Brian and the Judge.

WALLACE: Thank you, gentlemen.

NAPOLITANO: Is this potentially -- this one-liner that Brian just read, with which you are no doubt familiar, potentially fatal to her nomination?

WALLACE: I don't think so. It's certainly not very smart of her to have said. And I think it's troubling. You know, it troubles me. And I think, you know, the best thing to do in any of these cases is just reverse it and say, 'How would it have been if somebody had said, you know, "A wise white judge -- white male judge would come to a better decision, a better conclusion than a Latino judge"?' You know, and of course that would be considered hate speech and just awful, and a judge would be railroaded off the bench if they said that.

So, I mean, I think it's legitimately troubling, but I don't think at this point a single statement like that is -- and, you know, she'll have a smart, carefully written, scripted response to that when she testifies before the Senate Judiciary.

From the May 29 edition of MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell Reports:

ANDREA MITCHELL (anchor): Bob, Pat, I want to ask a question --

BUCHANAN: Sure.

MITCHELL: -- based on something that Rush Limbaugh just said. I don't have the tape; this is the actual quote: "The real question here that needs to be asked," Rush said, "and nobody on our side from a columnist to a TV commentator to anybody in our party has the guts to ask -- how can a president nominate such a candidate? How can a party get behind such a candidate? That's what would be asked if somebody were foolish enough to nominate David Duke or pick somebody even less offensive."

BUCHANAN: I think --

MITCHELL: Is that an appropriate comparison?

BUCHANAN: I wouldn't compare David Duke, but I will say this: If Sam Alito had said, "I think given their life's experience and the richness of it, white males will make better decisions than Latina females" --

BOB SHRUM (Democratic political consultant): She didn't say that.

BUCHANAN: -- he would be out. He would be finished.

SHRUM: She didn't say that.

BUCHANAN: He would be done.

SHRUM: You keep misquoting her.

BUCHANAN: She said exactly that.

MITCHELL: But didn't Sam Alito also say at his own --

SHRUM: She did not. I quoted it exactly a minute ago.

MITCHELL: Bob, Bob --

BUCHANAN: You did not.

MITCHELL: -- hang on a second. Didn't Sam Alito also say in his own confirmation hearing that his immigrant background would inform and would be part of the life experience he brought to the bench?

BUCHANAN: He didn't bring it -- this is race-based, what she is saying here. It is race-based.

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