SAN DIEGO — Presidential hopeful Bill Richardson yesterday refused to accept that Justice Byron White was one of two Supreme Court members who dissented from the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that established a right to abortion.
In last week’s debate in South Carolina, Mr. Richardson, the governor of New Mexico, named Justice White as the model of a justice he would appoint to the Supreme Court — a statement that has upset some Democrats, particularly because of Justice White’s dissent on Roe and later abortion decisions.
Asked about the choice at a press conference yesterday, Mr. Richardson told a reporter that he had his facts wrong and insisted Justice White served too early to be part of that decision.
“Are you sure? Roe versus Wade?” he said at a press conference after his speech to California Democrats’ convention. “He was in the ‘60s. I think an opponent of mine gave you that.”
Justice White served from 1962 to 1993 and joined Justice William H. Rehnquist in dissenting in the 7-2 Roe decision.
In last week’s debate, the Democrats were quizzed about their “model Supreme Court justice.”
Going first, Mr. Richardson named “Justice ‘Whizzer’ White.”
Prompted by moderator Brian Williams of NBC for “someone who is among the living,” Mr. Richardson said it would be Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and praised her for her recent dissent from the decision that upheld a federal ban on partial-birth abortions.
Given the importance of abortion rights support as an issue for Democratic candidates, Mr. Richardson’s choice of Justice White could become more problematic for him.
Mr. Richardson said he chose Justice White as his first answer because he was an all-America football player who was nominated by President Kennedy, who was Mr. Richardson’s hero.
“I was thinking really fast — I didn’t know, was he dead or alive,” Mr. Richardson said yesterday. “I don’t regret what I said. I make mistakes.”
Following Mr. Richardson at the debate, Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut also named Justice Ginsburg, and former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina named Justice Ginsburg or Justice Stephen G. Breyer.