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Sotomayor hearings: 'Wise' words unwise, nominee says

July 14, 2009 |  7:37 am


A famous remark by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor has come up again and again in today’s confirmation hearing of Sonia Sotomayor. More than once, O’Connor, the first woman on the Supreme Court, said, “A wise old woman and a wise old man, at the end of the day, can reach the same conclusion.”

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) argued that Sotomayor disagrees with that remark. Without quoting it in its entirety, he was referring to the “wise Latina” speech in which Sotomayor said: “Justice O'Connor has often been cited as saying that a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases . . . I am also not so sure that I agree with the statement. First, as professor Martha Minnow has noted, there can never be a universal definition of wise. Second, 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.”

Sotomayor said she does agree with O’Connor and that, although personal history helped shape a person and their view of the world, that experience cannot trump the law. The confusion, she said, was caused by a poorly worded speech. In her speech, she said, she attempted a “rhetorical flourish” on O’Connor’s words, but that play on words didn’t work.

“My play fell flat,” she said. “It was bad.”

As she said earlier, Sotomayor said she was just trying to inspire young Latinos and to let them know that their personal backgrounds had real value. Sessions said he remained unconvinced.

-- Steve Padilla

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Photo: Sen. Jeff Session, at left with Patrick Leahy, questions Sonia Sotomayor. Credit: Charles Dharapak / Associated Press