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Sotomayor’s statements on race and gender aren’t gaffes.

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Sonia Isn’t Joe

Sotomayor’s statements on race and gender aren’t gaffes.

Was it merely a Bidenesque gaffe when Judge Sonia Sotomayor said, “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”?

No, it isn’t. We know that because Sonia Sotomayor has said those same things – in more or less the same words – again and again.

That particular statement made by Supreme Court nominee at UC Berkeley Law School in 2001 sparked controversy and raised the issue of her biases on race and gender.

While conservatives jumped on the comment, liberals were quick to defend it.

“I think she’d say that her word choice in 2001 was poor,” said White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs. “Look at the totality of it. I have confidence that people will come to a reasonable conclusion."

"When I talk about the richness of experience, I include a life and an upbringing that are different than some people have had,” he reasoned.

“I’m sure she would have restated it,” President Obama reassured.

Perhaps most adamant was Sen. Patrick Leahy (D.-Vt.), who met privately with Sotomayor and stumbled through an explanation of her reasoning, “What she said was, of course, one’s life experience shapes who you are, but ultimately and completely — and she used those words ‘ultimately and completely’ — as a judge you follow the law."

Take, for a moment, these explanations at face value. Assume that Sotomayor misspoke, that she would have rephrased the statement and that this single line doesn’t accurately reflect her opinion. Why, then, does the same statement – in virtually the same words — crop up repeatedly, even in the speeches she provided the Senate Judiciary Committee in response to their questionnaire that is filled out by all judicial nominees?

In 1994, Sotomayor said:

“Justice O’Connor has often been cited as saying that ‘a wise old man and a wise old woman reach the same conclusion in dueling cases.’ […] First, if Prof. Martha Minnow is correct, there can never be a universal definition of ‘wise.’ Second, I would hope that a wise woman with the richness of her experience would, more often than not, reach a better conclusion.”

In “Reflections of a Latina Princetonian,” delivered on February 26, 2002 at the Princeton Women’s Network of NYC, she said:

“Whether born from experience or inherent physiological or cultural differences, a possibility I abhor less or discount less than my colleague Judge Cedarbaum, our gender and national origins make and will make a difference in our judging. Justice O’Connor has often been cited as saying that ‘a wise old man and a wise old woman 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 the line to Supreme Court Justice Coyle. I am also not so sure that I agree with the statement.

“First, if Prof. Martha Minnow is correct, 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.”

At Seton Hall University School of Law, she phrased it the same way in “Women as Judges: A Latina Judge’s Voice,” on October 22, 2003:

“Justice O’Connor has often been cited as saying that ‘a wise old man and a wise old woman 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 the line to Supreme Court Justice Coyle. I am also not so sure that I agree with the statement. First, if Professor Martha Minnow is correct, 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.”

More recently — although she does not use the same language — she says in the foreword to 2007’s The International Judge: An Introduction to the Men and Women Who Decide the World’s Cases:

“We should also question how much we have to learn from international courts and from their male and female judges about the process of judging and the factors outside of the law that influence our decisions.”

Sotomayor’s statements are not filled with gaffes, as Obama and Gibbs imply when they insist that she “misspoke.”

Gentlemen, please. This is Sonia Sotomayor, not Joe Biden.

With the facts laid out, it becomes clear that her thinking is consistent and expresses a deeply-held belief that the law is fundamentally meant to be interpreted and applied in a non-constitutional, non-static and sociological manner.

Later on in her speech at Seton Hall Law School, she does not rule out that women and people of color have “different perspectives” because “we have differences in logic and reasoning.”

How can there be differences in logic? Logic, by definition, doesn’t differ from one person to another. It uses set evidence, set assumptions and set relationships to reach a logical conclusion. Otherwise, the result is not logical conclusion, but an interpretation, an opinion.

While she does not necessarily embrace this theory that logic varies, her thinking illustrates her outlook on the law: that there are no self-evident truths, that the law is to be interpreted and applied solely in order to meet an individual’s personalized understanding of “reason” and “logic,” which is invariably derived from — to go back to the phrase she always falls back on — the “richness” of “experience.”

Someone who harbors these biases should not be sitting on the Supreme Court of the United States or, for that matter, any court that is responsible to dispense justice in accordance with our laws and Constitution.

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Written By

Teo Molin is a junior at Amherst College. He is an intern at HUMAN EVENTS through the National Journalism Center.

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