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 insisted her identity as a Hispanic woman shapes her life and her work in court. “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 she would rule based on her ethnic identity.
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 University student through her time as a prosecutor, corporate lawyer, trial judge and appeals court judge.
In a speech at Princeton in 1996, she said it was there that “I began a lifelong commitment to identifying myself as a Latina, taking pride in being Hispanic, and in recognizing my obligation to help my community reach its fullest potential in this society.”
But she said that “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 in 2006 at a gathering of Hispanic law students at Yale University. “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 color-blind way that ignores those very differences that in other contexts we laud.”
She added the Supreme Court is “just as fractured” as society over whether race should play a role 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 how to deal with its differences,” she said.
Sotomayor repeated that she disagreed with Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s comment 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 the Seton Hall Law School in 2003. “I would hope a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experience would, more often than not, reach a better conclusion.”