Steve Benen: 11 years ago Republicans didn't object to Sotomayor's statement, so why now?





[Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the magazine in August 2008 as"blogger in chief" of the Monthly's blog,"Political Animal." His background includes publishing The Carpetbagger Report, and writing for a variety of publications, including Talking Points Memo, The American Prospect, the Huffington Post, Salon, and The Guardian. He has also appeared on NPR's"Talk of the Nation," MSNBC's"Rachel Maddow Show," Air America Radio's"Sam Seder Show," and XM Radio's"POTUS '08."]

There's been no shortage of attention about Sonia Sotomayor's 2001 speech in Berkeley, but in an interesting twist, it seems the judge made very similar remarks in 1994.

"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.' 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 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 woman with the richness of her experience would, more often than not, reach a better conclusion." [emphasis added]

Now, I suspect some of Sotomayor's detractors will respond to this by saying,"A ha! There's a pattern!" But there's a far more relevant point -- Sotomayor submitted these remarks to the Senate 11 years ago, when the Clinton administration nominated her for the appeals court bench.

Not only did this fail to cause a stir at the time, but Sotomayor was confirmed with 67 votes. This included seven Republicans who are still in the Senate now.

As Greg Sargent noted,"The revelation raises fresh questions as to why the 2001 comments generated the controversy they did, and suggests that the comments are not as controversial as her critics claim."

Conservatives have argued of late that there are different standards for Supreme Court nominees than lower-court nominees. That strikes me as perfectly fair. But in 1998, Senate Republicans were looking for an excuse to block Sotomayor's confirmation, and they still didn't find these remarks especially troublesome.

They not only failed to object to the judge's sentiment, but 23 Republicans, who'd been presented with her 1994 speech, voted to confirm her to a lifetime appointment.

Truth be told, the"wise Latina" controversy has always been nonsense. Sotomayor's record on race-related and discrimination cases is entirely reasonable, moderate, and mainstream. The right is hyperventilating about a wrenched-from-context quote in large part because the judge's actual record on the bench does not lend itself well to partisan attacks.

But if the 32-word quote is really the single most important issue on the GOP's list of talking points, this new revelation adds a wrinkle to the entire conservative line of attack.



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