Sotomayor clarifies 'wise Latina' remark

U.S. Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, in her second day before the Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington, said Tuesday that no "racial or ethnic group has an advantage in sound judgment."
U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor answers questions from senators during her U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings on Capitol Hill in Washington on Tuesday. ((Kevin Lamarque/Reuters))

U.S. Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor said Tuesday that no "racial or ethnic group has an advantage in sound judgment."

She was speaking in her second day before the Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington.

"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. I do believe that every person has an equal opportunity to be a good and wise judge, regardless of their background or life experiences," she said.

Sotomayor, 55, who is U.S. President Barack Obama's pick to become the high court's first Hispanic and third woman judge, was clarifying her controversial remark in a 2001 speech in which she suggested a "wise Latina" would usually reach better conclusions than a white man without similar experiences.

She told Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick that she used those words in an effort to inspire groups of young Hispanics to believe that "they could become anything they wanted to become."

Controversial speech

"Justice [Sandra Day] O'Connor has often been cited as saying that a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases. I am not so sure Justice O'Connor is the author of that line, since Professor Resnik attributes that line to Supreme Court Justice Coyle. I am also not so sure that I agree with the statement. First, as Professor Martha Minnow has noted, there can never be a universal definition of wise. Second, 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."

— Sonia Sotomayor, speaking in 2001 at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law

Sotomayor added that she believes different life experiences enrich the legal system.

Moreover, a much-discussed ruling she and two other judges made against white New Haven, Conn., firefighters who alleged reverse discrimination after being denied promotions wasn't about affirmative action or quotas, she said.

Sotomayor pointed out that her background as a trial and appellate court judge had taught her to keep an open mind and not come to any cases with a prejudgment of the outcome.

"The issue was not what we would do or not do, because we were following precedent," she said, referring to her panel on the 2nd Circuit, whose ruling was overturned late last month by the Supreme Court.

Sotomayor said she would "absolutely" have reached a different result in light of the Supreme Court's reversal.

Next, she was grilled about how she felt about the landmark Roe versus Wade ruling legalizing abortion in 1973.

Sotomayor said she considers this "settled precedent," though she declined to state pointblank if she agreed with the high court's precedent on the  controversial issue.

She also told the Senate panel that "there is a right of privacy. The court has found it in various places in the Constitution," including in the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure and in the 14th Amendment guaranteeing equal protection of the law.

With files from The Associated Press