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June 1st, 2009
10:08 AM ET

Empathy or Racism? Judging Sotomayor's Record

Republicans are somewhat divided on how best to deal with Judge Sotomayor's nomination.

Some conservatives are calling her an activist judge, who will bring a leftist agenda to the high court.

Radio host Rush Limbaugh and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich have called Sotomayor a "racist," because of comments she made in 2001.

She once said her experience as a Latina woman might make her judgments more sound than those of a white man. Still, other opponents of her nomination recognize the political risk of attacking the first Hispanic to be nominated to the supreme court.

CNN's Fredricka Whitfield discusses Sotomayor's record.

Filed under: Fredricka Whitfield
soundoff (34 Responses)
  1. Tim of Arizona

    Its not that she is racist, she is only saying what minorities all ready know. By being a double minority she can empathise with the disadvantaged. A white male who has it easier that someone that is a double minority wouldn't know what its like to not get a job because of his sex or skin color. She brings those experiences to the table and those real life challanges. Its no suprise the traditionally white conservatives are upset about this harmless but true statement.

    June 1, 2009 at 10:25 am |
  2. Jerry

    I am a Latino, just like Sotomayor, if her statement was meant as a racist comment then she does not deserve to continue with her new appointment.
    But if you read the statement, it gives the impression that she was talking about a case or situation where her life experience would make it easier for her to make a decision versus someone who does not understand that life.

    June 1, 2009 at 10:28 am |
  3. Scott Stodden

    I beleive that these Republicans are wrong for wrong and out of line to call Sonia Sotomayor a racist. She is a woman who has struggled and worked hard all her life to get to the spot where her life is right now to this day. Sonia Sotomayor is a woman who brings class, intelligence & experience to the highest court in the land, she deserves this chance. Sonia Sotomayor is not a racist, in my opinion when she said she would make more sound decisions than a white man maybe its true, a white, black, or any other race can not think like a Latina, but her comment is not racist. Who is Rush Limbaugh & Newt Gingrich to call her a racist, these are conservatives who supported George W Bush, who I beleive truly was a racist. Leave Sonia Sotomayor alone.

    Scott Stodden (Freeport, IL)

    June 1, 2009 at 10:29 am |
  4. Ross Ballard

    Why are the media 'experts' so sure that GM needs to build smaller cars? GM has never excelled at slapping together something the American car buyer doesn't want to own. What GM needs to do is create a fuel efficient power plant and transmission combo, even a gasoline powered unit, that will breathe life into its existing (desirable) models. Taking 18mpg to 28 mpg in two years would put GM back in the driver's seat. Americans need cars with room to pack and haul everything from soccer kids to groceries to carpoolers. A better power train would also easily improve mid to large sized trucks making them easier to sell. It's the fuel economy (mpg) stupid, not the size of the ride that will take GM from the Salvage Yard to Salvation.

    Ross Ballard
    Practitioner Professor, Johns Hopkins University

    June 1, 2009 at 1:37 pm |
  5. Solis-Costa Rican

    As a Costa Rican, U.S. Citizen, I can tell you that the majority of Latin Americans are not offended nor insulted that Republicans accuse Judge Sotomayor of being a racist because she is a Puerto Rican/Caribbean/Islander and Latin Americans do not consider Puerto Ricans or Cubans to be Latin Americans so they don't care that she was called a racist.

    The majority of Latin Americans will tell you that they know that she was referring to Americans in her comment and it does not bother them that she is a racist against Americans ( "White" to the majority of Latin Americans means American).

    The main concern to Latin Americans is why did President Obama not choose a Latin American-U.S born descendant from Columbia, Costa Rica, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Venezuela etc… if his aim is to satisfy the Latin American people in putting a Latin/Hispanic in the U.S. Supreme Court.

    Latin American people consider Puerto Rico-Cuba-Bahamas-Jamaica-Haiti-Dominican Republic as Caribbean/Islanders not Latin or Latin American. They will accept/tolerate calling those from the islands that speak Spanish “Hispanic”.

    Latin Americans are not hooked on issues as Americans are and they do not care about her education, capabilities, accomplishments and her childhood, it's irrelevant to them.

    If Republicans loose the Latin American vote it is because Republicans don’t promise as many things as Democrats do, not because a Puerto Rican woman was called a racist against Americans.

    Latin Americans will tell you that besides being a Caribbean/Islander she was born in the USA and is from a Commonwealth of the USA which has nothing to do with Latin America so why would they get excited to have her in U.S. Supreme Court.

    Most Americans are completely wrong in their theories, comments, opinions when it comes to how Latin Americans feel and view things.

    Mr. Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh were right on target with Judge Sotomayor and the majority of Latin Americans will agree with their conclusion that she is racist, that her comment referred to Americans.

    Miami, FL

    June 1, 2009 at 2:20 pm |
  6. Guddy

    I'm not surprised about the republicans. What ever it is, they are against it. They are blind and wood headed and they are loosing more and more. To call her a racist is racism poor. To try to find a hair in the soup is putting them on the looser side. To listen to a white man like Limbough is dumb and sick. Two days after her nomination, he sad on air, that she is a racist, how dare he. He is uneducated, a sexist and a racist and he has to be removed from the media platform. Sonja Sotomajor is the best choice and will be a good judge. We need a woman like she is, with all her experience and education. Republicans are jealous about education. They need dumb people around. Only dumb people can follow them blind.

    June 1, 2009 at 2:55 pm |
  7. JOHN WV

    Radio host Rush Limbaugh and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich have become the U S TALIBAN

    June 1, 2009 at 2:58 pm |
  8. Mary Jane

    Rick, we need people like you and Judge Sotomayor to balance the extreme right wing. Keep up the good work Rick. We need you.

    June 1, 2009 at 3:09 pm |
  9. Phil, georgia

    Its a tragedy when Limbaugh, Newt are allowed to just take out of context a paragraph and put a strong lable on Sotomayor as a racist and not be strongly repudiated by other republicans and not given the full pretext by the media; This only gives credence to the fear that minorities have that no matter how qualified, they will be unfairly stereotyped and not given opportunities. its many steps taken back. Those that make such deep statements need to be able to withoutADoubt make sure those statements can be proved.

    June 1, 2009 at 3:21 pm |
  10. Maria

    We just need to see her afiliation with all the "latino" asociations
    like "LA RAZA" they don't even pay taxes but they are all for the
    ILLEGAL ALIENS, even they say it is an American institution,well
    only for latinos, from latilandia I guess... what about if a white judge
    will said same thing, then he will be critizised and impeached,but
    oh no!! latino suppused to be a privilige thing and if you are an
    ILLEGAL ALIEN,drug dealer, human smugglers then you have
    the respect from Mrs. Soto Mayor, that"s been racist the law its
    supposed to be blind to any color, or any background I am sure
    that there is thousands of judges that know some of the victims
    go trough when some illegal aliens latinos, killed theyre families
    victims or DUI'S who have better qualifications than this racist
    Soto Mayor judge.

    June 1, 2009 at 3:35 pm |
  11. gary Hughes

    Haven't we heard the TRUTH HURTS? Is not those Republicans expressing their hurt because of Ms Sotamayor statement being TRUE? Living an experience is more real than being on the outside not knowing what the experience is all about. Being WHITE does not make you RIGHT.

    June 1, 2009 at 4:27 pm |
  12. Authentic Savage (Anthony Oluwatoyin)

    Everyone senses but no one seems to be able to pinpoint what is uniquely wrong with Sotomayor's assertion that she would hope to reach "better" judgements than a white male "who has not lived that life."

    Would Sotomayor step down from cases involving white male experiences, since she has not lived that life? That would "ghettoize" professional aspirations of nonwhites. We would be relegated to "judging our own." Only.

    Yet the whole point of racial equality is to get in on the largesse of broader and broader opportunity. The opportunity to sell to, to work with, to live next to, to - yes - stand in judgement over others. Sotomayor cannot claim to be just as good across racial lines but better when it comes to her own.

    That is what is so strange about the fact that Sotomayor seems not to have felt the need to say that her judgement would be wiser than that of black males, or fellow Latino males, or, indeed, of other women, black and white. She only picks on white men. So she's not talking about experience. That's just a cover. She's either just another bigot or she's setting a whole new ghetto glass ceiling for cross-racial evaluation.

    In fact, the real problem in America today, post-Obama/post-racial or not, is that we really have all become so "tribal" in expectation. We don't want racism but find no problem where race betters the odds. Yet black juries convict black defendants all the time. Why is that any different from the results of white juries?

    Something decent deep within us actually warns that evaluation across the race may be less partisan in the pursuit of justice, but we - like Sotomayor - continue to play games.

    True advancement opens up as much benefit as it leaves us open to disadvantage from the judgement of others. Shouldn't a judge, of all people, know exactly how that balance works?

    Authentic Savage (Anthony Oluwatoyin).

    June 1, 2009 at 7:06 pm |
  13. Charlie Erickson

    She's no racist. It's all hogwash! The Republicans just need any chance they can, to strike at and to focus doubt on the Democratic Party.

    This is what politics does best; it denies, lies, misleads, then shifts blame (real, perceived or falsely created) onto the other person(s)/party.

    It's just more political posturing. The democrats would and have done the same thing, in the same position.


    June 1, 2009 at 7:36 pm |
  14. warren

    are all men created equal or arent they pretty sad she shouldnt be a judge as for the rest of them term limits would help i mean who are they to sit and judge others for life that is one of the things thats wrong with america

    June 1, 2009 at 9:23 pm |
  15. Robert

    Tim of Arizona- are you so ignorant to believe that just on the fact that a man is born of White European decent he has life better? Or that because a woman isn't of White decent she somehow is underprivileged?
    Try the standard: if a white man had made the same comment what would you concider it? Then YOU are not judging with prejudice.
    I believe Latinos are entitled to representation, they are as American as anyone of any color, race, ethnicity, religion etc. But the question is if this woman has a personal agenda will she be effective as a representative of her community? Are there not Hispanics who don't have these OBVIOUSLY racist views or atleast the foresite to not verbalize them?
    Understand the White community IS the majority. All systems of the World, that are free, are a system of MAJORITY rule. But it has been a long time since a person of color has been turned down for a job simply for their non-whiteness. NO company would think of giving a liberal idiot the chance to destroy them AND if a person is actually the best qualified for the job who in their right mind wouldn't hire that person and reap the profits?
    Lokk to the upper right of this page do you see a White man as an Anchor? I don't is that racial bias? Again the standard, if the anchors were all white males what would the reaction be? Assume they're all white males, that's your answer. Now if White males are the majority then CNN is racially prejudice against Whites. No? Apply the standard and think again.
    Maybe the Supreme Court should have a racially motivated Judge, so appoint Sotomayor then appoint a true Limbaugh follower. At that point you will have balance, right?

    Scott Stodden- who is Limbaugh and Gingrich? Are you smoking crack? You believe Bush is a racist? Make your point with facts not rhetoric. He was voted in twice with the help of the Latino vote. He was VERY popular in Texas with the Latino community, in fact as far as the whites and Latinos I knew in Texas he was more popular with the Latinos then the Whites.
    Jerry is the ONLY comment of true rational. He is absolutely right, if she's a racist kick her out if not, then appoint her.
    Tim of Arizona, I'm Robert of El Mirage Arizona half my family is Latino the other half White. Personally mine includes German, Scotts Irish (and there is a difference) and Italian. I'm Irish Catholic know of them and how the world treated us? Know who built the railroads? How many minorities am I? I'm also an ex-con so I get another minority. I'm not a racist that makes me another minority (you don't get that one because you are racist toward White men, yeah it's possible). No one wants to hire me when they find out I did my time for first degree murder, is that prejudice toward me? What if I'm not White? What if I am? I've seen both sides of freedom and the inside, poor and with money, now with prejudice toward me because of my past. Does that make me better able to make a decision than a Latino Women???

    June 1, 2009 at 9:59 pm |
  16. dan in Tucson

    Just the words alone that Gingrich and Limpbag have made actually are the real racist comments here, coming from the kings of racism. Words are words. What shows the real picture are ones actions. And Judge Sotomayor’s actions on the bench are the real test of her integrity. She has an exemplary record and would be an excellent addition to the supreme court.

    June 2, 2009 at 9:42 am |
  17. Sherwood

    At worst, her comment is racist, especially taking into account the where of it (La Raza), and at best a sexist remark. More troubling, is the double standard being applied here. Everyone seems to agree that a man, or a white make making such a remark would be toast, his nomination history...yet, it is OK for a woman to make such a remark and still be a Supreme Court Judge? It is OK for a Latino woman to make such a remark and still be Supreme Court Judge?

    I am not a livid, angry Republican. I am a registered Democrat who supports a woman's right to choose, marriage rights for gays, and the legalization of Marijuana. About the only thing I am not liberal about is the planned Amnesty for 12 million illegal aliens under the guise of Immigration Reform, and the continuation of Affirmative Action which is, on its face reverse discrimination.

    It is time that ALL CITIZENS of America be held to the SAME STANDARDS, be given the same rights. Sotomayer's remarks if made by a man are reason for instant dismissal from the process. Shouldn't she be held to the EXACT SAME STANDARDS?

    June 2, 2009 at 10:09 am |
  18. james simpson

    if Sonia Sotomayor's comment had been about a black man instead of a white man, we would not be having this discussion at all. While whites are still a majority in this country, we suffer from a lack of organizations dedicated to protecting us from actual and implied racial slurs. How quickly would Rev. Al Sharpton or Jessee Jackson have gotten involved had the comment been directed at a man of color? I'm personally surprised that this is even an issue.

    June 2, 2009 at 10:15 am |
  19. Steve

    Does someone have to think like a straight white male in order to become a Supreme Count justice? I guess Justice Thomas does. Why can't someone come to the Court with a personal perspective of a hispanic woman??? Is this not allowed by the U.S. Constitution?

    June 2, 2009 at 10:16 am |
  20. Anna Olson

    I don't think that Judge Sotomayor is racist. I think that what her speech was trying to say is just that from a women's point of view and being a latino. They have to work really hard to get anywhere in this world. They have to climb that ladder a lot quicker than a MAN would.
    As a women myself I can see what she means. Because having to move up a ladder you as a women have to prove yourself more than you would if you were just , "one of the guys" she will be seeing things from this side of the fence.

    June 2, 2009 at 12:34 pm |
  21. RJ

    we dont need a legislator from the bench! we need more women and minorities but no one with a hidden agenda, which is clear by her statements is to adocate for hispanics! I`m a democrat and yes I did vote for Obama, she is not the right candidate period! If I had said the things she did being a white man they (liberals) would be all over me, you know it and I know it! The notion out there that a minority cant be racist is straight up riduculas!!!!

    June 2, 2009 at 12:56 pm |
  22. RJ

    I have news for you there TIM, I`m a white man and have not gotten a job because of it! When the quota calls for a women or a minority even though I was more qualified than any of the other candidates I didnt get the job solely because of my race! Call it what you want!

    June 2, 2009 at 12:58 pm |
  23. RJ

    I`m a white male born into poverty and have had no hand outs or special breaks! I`ve had to hard hard for what I have! This stupid notion that if you are white you have it made, well when a minority says these things one can only come to one conclusion, that anyone who sits back and judges me because I`m white is a racist period! If your this illegal mexican women stting back saying how easy I have it then shes racist! Judges are supposed to pass judgement based on only one thing and thats the law, not feeling sorry for someone!

    June 2, 2009 at 1:14 pm |
  24. RJ

    I wander even if Sotomayor is actually a legal citizen, I mean did her parents enter this country legally or as I suspect she slipped through the cracks of immigration! If this is the case does this still qualify her to be a Supreme Court Judge? I think if she or her family violated American law as far as her citizenship is concerned then she should automatically be dismissed!

    June 2, 2009 at 1:18 pm |
  25. Robert in El Mirage

    Dan in Tucson- What exactly is her record and what gave you access to those records? you sound like another Tucson sheep who just wants to say something stupid about someone you're intimidated by.

    Sherwood- I wish I had your insight and ablility to present it. More so I wish others had your insight then there would be more wise people that someone as ignorant as I am could learn from, Thank you.

    James Simpson- you are also on point and with wisdom.

    Steve- someone just needs to come to the court under the same scrutiny and the same standard applied to the Majority, that's all, it's that simple, equality not special privilege.

    Anna- I feel you and respect tyour opinion but she is judged by the senate and it's pretty diverse, more so than the U.S. population. By the way more men are losing their jobs than women so wheres your point of how hard it is for them and how hard is it for them to keep their jobs. Don't the men have a right to compete to feed their families too? Feel for others as you want others to feel for you. Nice thought , huh?

    June 2, 2009 at 2:33 pm |
  26. Robert in El Mirage

    Look at the top right of this page, see any White men as Anchors? Me either. If Whites are the Majority and men are half that population where is their representation on CNN? Is CNN prejudice? Oh yeah, it's ok to oppress the White man I keep forgetting with all this equality talk, my bad.

    June 2, 2009 at 2:40 pm |
  27. Pam

    Finally, we have someone who's not afraid to stand up to the right-wingers like Tancredo. Thanks, Rick.

    June 2, 2009 at 3:25 pm |
  28. Dawn-Atlanta

    I really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, wish Republicans, including Rush Limbaugh, would stop fighting against anything Democrats try to accomplish and get on board with trying to make our country better.
    It seems as though both pre and post 2009 election they have continued to sprial downward into a separatist party.
    It is pathetic and sad. Don't they realize that in order to become a unified party, they need to work together with Democrats and stop causing so much division. I believe most Americans, with so much happening in our world, don't want to hear the Republican whining that is going on right now.
    We would respect them more if they all find constructive ways to get along.
    Judge Sotomayor seems like just the Supreme Court Justice we need.

    June 2, 2009 at 3:45 pm |
  29. Dawn-Atlanta

    One more thing to add; I am an African-American woman who raised my children as a single parent. In relationg to Judge Sotomayor, I bring my life experiences to my current day judgements. It does mean I am a racist but I can relate better to those experiences than a white man who has never lived that life.
    Makes sense to me.
    I also have primarily voted Democratic but would consider changing parties if I felt that party was mostly aligned with my values.

    June 2, 2009 at 4:04 pm |
  30. Robert

    Dawn-Atlanta Your "one more thing to add" just got my respect. Why is it so wrong to be a racist? Racist means you believe your race is superior! And you should! Be proud of who you are and who your ancestors were. And let me also.
    Working together doesn't mean allowing a free reign to Democrats. I also bring MY lifes experiences to my everyday judgements. Why are yours more important than mine?
    The republicans are doing exactly what the Democrats did in every Republican administration. Did you want them to stop? Than I really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, wish YOU would do what you ask for of others.
    Do you realize the Republican Party, which started in Wisconsin, established itself to oppose Slavery? Why did Blacks abandon the party instead of becoming part of it and influencing it? If you want change, become a part of and bring your lifes experiences to it. Trust this, you are welcome.
    The media has seperated the White man from EVERYONE else. Think about this, then instead of a quick come back watch television with a score pad. The media has seperated the White Man and the Black Woman from "media society". Watch commercials, t.v. shows,etc on all channels and you will see... Black man & White woman more than any other couple. Less often you will see Black Man & Black Woman, less still White Man & White Woman, and almost never will you see Black Woman and a White Man, why? Are Black Women not good enough for White men? Or are White Women better and more desired by Black men than Black Women are?
    Black Women are the least promoted on T.V. Why? I personally think there are many beautiful Black Women. Beautiful on the inside as well as on the outside. Why doesn't television use their beauty? And I want to know do they not show Black Women with White men because Black Women really, really, really... don't like White men?

    It's not about Sotomayor it's about equality and until anyone who is a minority is ready to be equal and not looking for "get back" there will be inequality.

    Think about what I said and speak freely not oppressively. When you can do that you are truly superior and truly free.

    Dawn you spoke freely and that gets my highest respect.

    June 2, 2009 at 6:00 pm |
  31. The Truth, Texas

    Since Newt can call Sonia a racist without understanding the total context of what she said, I strongly beliee that he should apologize to her. It is well known that someone who has undergone a particular situstion is well qualified to offer advice than someone who has not experience that same situation. For example, The best marriage consellors are those who have been married for a long time and has undergone the ups and downs of married than someone whoe just got married or who is single.

    June 3, 2009 at 10:19 am |
  32. Chris

    I think Obama feels he's doing what's right, but my impression is he's pulling the US back, cutting the US down to size, and I don't know why he feels that is necessary.

    June 6, 2009 at 12:39 pm |
  33. Rami Saffarini

    Obama's speech was a far cry from Bush's "you're either with us or against us" speeches. But he is not even-handed on the Palestine/ Israel issue. While he described the horrors of Palestinan rockets falling on Israel (which killed one Israeli in the Dec-08 war), he did not even mention the 1,400 Palestinians who were killed during that war, or the Israeli bombing of southern Lebanon in 2006, in which more than a thousand lebenese civilians were killed.

    June 6, 2009 at 12:49 pm |
  34. Mary

    For accuracy, include Sotomayor's words, "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."

    June 7, 2009 at 4:35 pm |

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