The Associated Press reported that Sonia Sotomayor's "wise Latina" comment "has emerged as a rallying call for conservative critics" but did not note that such conservatives as Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas have made similar comments.
In a May 30 article, the Associated Press reported that Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor's 2001 statement that "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" "has emerged as a rallying call for conservative critics who fear she will offer opinions from the bench based less on the rule of law and more on her life experience, ethnicity and gender." But the AP did not note that such conservatives as Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas have made similar comments. Nor did the AP note that Sotomayor's comments came in the context of discussing the importance of diversity in adjudicating race and sex discrimination cases.
As Media Matters for America has noted, Thomas and Alito have each acknowledged the significant impact that their personal background and experiences have had on their judicial thinking. Alito asserted during his 2006 confirmation hearing:
ALITO: I don't come from an affluent background or a privileged background. My parents were both quite poor when they were growing up.
And I know about their experiences and I didn't experience those things. I don't take credit for anything that they did or anything that they overcame.
But I think that children learn a lot from their parents and they learn from what the parents say. But I think they learn a lot more from what the parents do and from what they take from the stories of their parents lives.
And that's why I went into that in my opening statement. Because when a case comes before me involving, let's say, someone who is an immigrant -- and we get an awful lot of immigration cases and naturalization cases -- I can't help but think of my own ancestors, because it wasn't that long ago when they were in that position.
And so it's my job to apply the law. It's not my job to change the law or to bend the law to achieve any result.
But when I look at those cases, I have to say to myself, and I do say to myself, "You know, this could be your grandfather, this could be your grandmother. They were not citizens at one time, and they were people who came to this country."
When I have cases involving children, I can't help but think of my own children and think about my children being treated in the way that children may be treated in the case that's before me.
And that goes down the line. When I get a case about discrimination, I have to think about people in my own family who suffered discrimination because of their ethnic background or because of religion or because of gender. And I do take that into account. When I have a case involving someone who's been subjected to discrimination because of disability, I have to think of people who I've known and admire very greatly who've had disabilities, and I've watched them struggle to overcome the barriers that society puts up often just because it doesn't think of what it's doing -- the barriers that it puts up to them.
So those are some of the experiences that have shaped me as a person.
During Thomas' Supreme Court confirmation hearings, Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI) asked, "I'd like to ask you why you want this job?" Thomas replied in part: "I believe, Senator, that I can make a contribution, that I can bring something different to the Court, that I can walk in the shoes of the people who are affected by what the Court does."
Former Bush Justice Department lawyer John Yoo has similarly stressed that Thomas "is a black man with a much greater range of personal experience than most of the upper-class liberals who take potshots at him" and argued that Thomas' work on the court has been influenced by his understanding of the less fortunate acquired through personal experience.
From the AP article:
"I am certain that she is the right choice," the president said in his weekly radio and Internet address in which he scolded critics who he said were trying to distort her record and past statements. Those include her 2001 comment that a female Hispanic judge would often reach a better decision than a white male judge.
On Friday, Obama personally sought to deflect criticism about Sotomayor's comment in a 2001 lecture that "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."
The quote in question from Sotomayor has emerged as a rallying call for conservative critics who fear she will offer opinions from the bench based less on the rule of law and more on her life experience, ethnicity and gender. That issue is likely to play a central role in her Senate confirmation process.
"I'm sure she would have restated it," Obama told NBC News, without indicating how he knew that.
Obama also defended his nominee, saying her message was on target even if her exact wording was not.
"I think that when she's appearing before the Senate committee, in her confirmation process, I think all this nonsense that is being spewed out will be revealed for what it is," Obama said in the broadcast interview, clearly aware of how ethnicity and gender issues are taking hold in the debate.
A veteran federal judge, Sotomayor is poised to be the first Hispanic, and the third woman, to serve on the Supreme Court She appears headed for confirmation, needing a majority vote in a Senate, where Democrats have 59 votes. But White House officials also want a smooth confirmation, not one that bogs down them or their nominee.