Republican senators who will be meeting with President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee this week held their cards tight Sunday, though one lawmaker asked that appeals court Judge Sonia Sotomayor apologize for a remark she made in 2001; specifically, that a “Latina woman” would make better rulings than a white man.
Sen. Lindsey Graham called on Judge Sotomayor to apologize for her remark, though he and other Republicans did not go so far as to call her a racist.
Judge Sotomayor told an audience in 2001 she “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.” Conservative leaders Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich called the comment racist, but Republican lawmakers have hesitated to do that.
“It’s getting from her life experiences a superiority based on those experiences versus somebody else in society,” Mr. Graham, South Carolina Republican, said on “Fox News Sunday.” “And I don’t want that kind of person being a judge in my case. But I don’t think she’s a racist.”
Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican and a Judiciary Committee member, also declined to call Judge Sotomayor a racist, saying he’s “not going to get drawn into characterizations before I have even met her.”
President Obama said Friday he believed Judge Sotomayor “would have restated” her remark, noting that the rest of the speech she delivered was about how her upbringing as a Hispanic gave her the experience to be a good judge.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said critics are taking Judge Sotomayor’s remarks out of context.
“I think the first thing she’ll say is, read the whole speech, which was then published in a law review article,” Mr. Schumer said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” “And she makes it clear that while, of course, people’s personal experiences guide them, rule of law comes first.”
Judge Sotomayor has not commented on her remark or the speech, although White House press secretary Robert Gibbs has said he thinks she used a “poor” choice of words.
Republican lawmakers have been cautious in addressing Mr. Obama’s choice for the Supreme Court, who would be the first Hispanic and third woman to sit on the bench.
While conservative leaders have been more aggressive in their attacks against Judge Sotomayor, Republican senators have been more reserved. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Sunday it is not his job to speak for pundits.
“I’ve got a big job to do, dealing with 40 Senate Republicans and trying to advance the nation’s agenda,” Mr. McConnell said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “I’ve got better things to do than be the speech police over people who are going to have their views about a very important appointment, which is an appointment to the United States Supreme Court.”
Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, spoke similarly on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” saying, “People on the outside can say what they choose to say.”
Mr. McConnell and other Republican senators making the rounds of Sunday talk shows would neither guarantee nor rule out a filibuster of Judge Sotomayor’s nomination. Mr. Sessions said it was “unlikely” that Republicans would filibuster, and Sen. John Cornyn of Texas called such talk “premature” on ABC’s “This Week” program.
Mr. Obama supported a filibuster of the 2005 appointment to the Supreme Court, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., who was appointed by President Bush, though he has asked lawmakers not to block Judge Sotomayor’s confirmation.
“Well, he looks at it one view, of course, as a senator, and a different view as a president,” said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “I’ve only had the opportunity and only will ever have the opportunity to look at it as a senator. I’ve voted on every single member of the current Supreme Court.”