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Speeches reveal more about Sotomayor's thoughts on race

The Senate Judiciary Committee receives a file on the Supreme Court nominee's life from Princeton onward. She has spoken on other occasions of ethnic identity and her hopes about 'wise Latina' judges.

June 05, 2009|David G. Savage

WASHINGTON — Judge Sonia Sotomayor, already facing controversy for a 2001 speech on the virtue of having "a wise Latina" as a judge, made similar comments in a series of speeches released Thursday.

She said the nation is "deeply confused" about the proper role of race and ethnic identity, and she maintained that her identity as a Latina shaped her life and her work in court. She hoped "a wise Latina" would reach a "better conclusion" than a white male, she said on several occasions.

Since her nomination, conservative activists have cited the comment as evidence that she would rule based on her ethnic identity.

President Obama sought to defuse the criticism last week. "I'm sure she would have restated it," he said, adding that she was "simply saying that her life experience will give her information about the struggles and hardships that people are going through."

The speeches were among a thick file, including court opinions and financial documents, that the White House sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday. They cover 35 years of Sotomayor's life, from her days as a Princeton student through her time as a prosecutor, corporate lawyer, trial judge and appeals court judge.

She reported a net worth of $740,000, consisting mostly of her $1.1-million condominium in New York City. She has a $381,000 mortgage and about $31,000 in the bank. She reported owning no stocks, bonds or mutual funds.

She said that White House Counsel Gregory Craig first contacted her about the Supreme Court vacancy on April 27 -- five days before Justice David H. Souter publicly announced he was retiring.

In a speech at Princeton in 1996, she said: "I began a lifelong commitment to identifying myself as a Latina" while at Princeton, "taking pride in being Hispanic, and in recognizing my obligation to help my community reach its fullest potential in this society."

She added: "I underscore that in saying this I am not promoting ethnic segregation. I am promoting just the opposite: an ethnic identity and pride which impels us to work with others in the larger society to achieve advancement for the people of our cultures."

"America has a deeply confused image of itself that is a perpetual source of tension," she said at a 2006 gathering of Latino students at Yale Law School. "We are a nation that takes pride in our ethnic diversity, recognizing its importance in shaping our society and in adding richness to its existence. Yet we simultaneously insist that we can and must function and live in a race- and colorblind way that ignores those very differences that in other contexts we laud."

She said that the Supreme Court was "just as fractured" as society over the role of race in public decisions, such as college affirmative action.

"This tension leads many of us to struggle with maintaining and promoting our cultural and ethnic identities in a society that is often ambivalent about to how to deal with its differences," she said.

Sotomayor repeated that she disagreed with a comment attributed to Justice Sandra Day O'Connor that "a wise old man and a wise old woman reach the same conclusion" in deciding cases. "I'm not so sure that I agree with the statement," she said at Seton Hall Law in 2003. "I would hope a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experience would, more often than not, reach a better conclusion."

Two years earlier, at the UC Berkeley law school, she said she hoped the "wise Latina" would reach "a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."

On the subject of ethics, she took on three prominent New Yorkers early in her judicial career in a 1993 Yale Law speech. She named then-Secretary of Commerce Ronald H. Brown, then-Mayor-elect of New York Rudolph W. Giuliani and former New York Atty. Gen. Robert Abrams as having used their connections in government to make money outside government.

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david.savage@latimes.com

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