Sotomayor Concessions

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on May 30, 2009

Even the White House, triumphant as it is concerning the nomination of Judge Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, has to admit that her critics have a point concerning the judge’s past statements:

President Barack Obama on Friday personally sought to deflect criticism of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, who finds herself under intensifying scrutiny for saying in 2001 that a female Hispanic judge would often reach a better decision than a white male judge. “I’m sure she would have restated it,” Obama flatly told NBC News, without indicating how he knew that.

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.

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.

The president’s damage control underscored how the White House is eager to stay on message as the battle to publicly define Sotomayor picks up.

Obama’s top spokesman, Robert Gibbs, told reporters about Sotomayor: “I think she’d say that her word choice in 2001 was poor.”

This is all fine and good. However, it is worth recalling that the statements made by Judge Sotomayor were made in a speech. Speeches are, of course, planned remarks. The words of a speech are worked and reworked until the speechwriter believes that he/she has got things right. Thus, Judge Sotomayor’s comments were not throwaway lines. Rather, they were comments that sounded good to her upon crafting her speech.

It is understandable if a throwaway comment is badly phrased; there is nothing planned about the comment, and an unplanned comment can stand a very good chance of going awry. But when planned comments go awry, it is worth noting, because planned comments give us an excellent insight into the mind and philosophy of the person responsible for crafting the words. We have to ask not only whether there is something non-kosher about the comment, but whether there is something non-kosher about the philosophy of the person who formed the comment as well.

The White House found it necessary to backtrack on Judge Sotomayor’s planned comments. That isn’t the end of the inquiry, however. It’s only the beginning of it.

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