Sonia Sotomayor 1.0 vs. Sonia Sotomayor 2.0

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on July 14, 2009

Maybe we ought to call off Senate hearings and let Judge Sotomayor debate herself:

Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor firmly denied racial bias Tuesday at her Senate confirmation hearing and said an oft-criticized remark about her Hispanic heritage affecting judicial decisions was a rhetorical device gone awry.

An attempted play on words “fell flat” in a speech in 2001, Sotomayor told Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., referring to remarks in which she suggested that a “wise Latina woman” would usually reach a better conclusion than a white male.

“It was bad because it left an impression that I believed that life experiences commanded a result in a case, but that’s clearly not what I do as a judge,” Sotomayor said.

Raise your hand if you believe this. I didn’t see Judge Sotomayor make this comment, but if she did it with a straight face, I would stand up, applaud, and demand that she be given an Oscar.

[Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick] Leahy was the first to ask about the “wise Latina” comment that has sparked so much controversy.

“I want to state upfront, unequivocally and without doubt: I do not believe that any racial, ethnic or gender group has an advantage in sound judging,” Sotomayor said. “I do believe that every person has an equal opportunity to be a good and wise judge, regardless of their background or life experiences.”

How on Earth does Judge Sotomayor expect us to reconcile that last statement with what she said before? Where was the supposed “play on words” in Judge Sotomayor’s statement? I read the speech in full, and find no clever attempts at wordplay anywhere in it.

It is one thing to walk back, or try to put in context controversial statements made in the past. We’ve all had to do that. It’s another thing, however, to insult the intelligence of the audience in the process. If Judge Sotomayor and her defenders have to resort to these kinds of excuses to play down controversial statements she has made in the past, then perhaps we have our strongest indication to date that this nomination ought to be voted down.

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