Washington 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.”
Gibbs, however, said he did not hear that from Sotomayor directly. He said he learned it from people who had talked to her, and he did not identify who those people were.
She said in 2001: “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.” The remark was in the context of her saying that “our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging.”