WASHINGTON – While some prominent conservative activists are hurling epithets at President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, more Republicans are telling them to chill out and “grow up” or risk damaging the party’s chances of expanding its reach to women and Hispanics.
Members of the Republican establishment are trying to steer the debate over Sonia Sotomayor away from the battle cries of conservative icons Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh, in favor of a more measured conversation about the legal philosophy and qualifications of the first Hispanic woman to be nominated to the court.
“I think it’s terrible,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said in a radio interview, condemning those who have called Sotomayor a racist.
“This is not the kind of tone that any of us want to set when it comes to performing our constitutional responsibilities of advice and consent.”
Limbaugh earlier in the week branded Sotomayor a “reverse racist,” and on Friday he compared her to former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. Gingrich, referring to the high court nominee, said on Twitter this week that “new racism is no better than old racism.”
They were reacting to reports of a speech Sotomayor gave several years ago at the University of California at Berkeley, in which she said that “gender and national origins” affect a person’s judgment, and that “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.”
Former Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado, who ran for the GOP presidential nomination in 2008, on Thursday threw another log on the fire.
In an interview with CNN, Tancredo accused Sotomayor of belonging to a group that was akin to the Ku Klux Klan, calling the National Council of La Raza, a civil rights and advocacy group, “Latino KKK without the hoods and nooses.”
At the same time, the White House tried to defuse controversy over Sotomayor’s “wise Latina” comment, with Obama addressing it directly in an NBC interview Friday.
“I’m sure she would have restated it,” the president said. “But if you look in the entire sweep of the essay, she was simply saying that her life experiences will give her information about struggles and hardship that people are going through – that will make her a good judge.”
Obama added that part of a judge’s job is “to stand in somebody else’s shoes. … And so her, as a Latino woman, part of her job is going to be to listen to the farmer in Iowa and, you know, if he’s upset about a farm regulation, and be able to understand how hard it is to farm, and what that means. And to be able to incorporate that into her decision-making.”