By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Department of redundancy department

New York Times columnist Bob Herbert pokes fun at Newt Gingrich this morning for calling Judge Sonya Sotomayor a “Latina woman racist,” writing that Gingrich is “apparently unaware of his incoherence in the ‘Latina-woman’ redundancy in this defamatory characterization.”

Herbert is technically correct. But as we all know, Sotomayor’s most controversial public pronouncement came during a 2001 speech in which she said:

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.

Watch Herbert tie himself into knots as he attempts to allude to that statement without quoting it directly.

For the record, I don’t think Sotomayor is incoherent, redundant or a racist.

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A must-read Q&A


  1. Bill Baar

    It’s a really dumb statement for a Judge to say.Anyone expecting to deal with the public and to render judgements on them, ought to have the smarts to avoid compromising themselves like this…

  2. NewsHound

    She was merely reflecting on her background and life experiences which she considered more a hardship than her perception of the example she cited . . . perhaps thinking of some in politics who are born in sufficient supply of money to grow up as politicians and spoiled, undisciplined brats and drunks who often are able to hide under the law.With all the hullabaloo by her critics one might have the illusion that there are hardly any real serious problems for our country, world and civilization to deal with and solve.No doubt, not politically correct but if any of us had been recorded on everything said since birth would have at least a few embarrassments.

  3. Dan Kennedy

    Bill and NewsHound: I hope we’re not going to relitigate what she meant. I am merely commenting on her use of the redundant “Latina woman” phrase.

  4. Steve

    The “latina woman” thing is the NYT equivalent of a spelling flame, I guess. Sotomayor uses that construction herself. Focus instead on the risible nature of Newt’s remarks in general.If that one out-of-context comment is all Sotomayor’s opponents have, her confirmation should be a breeze.The NYT reprints here the entire speech from whence that snippet comes. Of much greater significance is this passage from her closing:Each day on the bench I learn something new about the judicial process and about being a professional Latina woman in a world that sometimes looks at me with suspicion. I am reminded each day that I render decisions that affect people concretely and that I owe them constant and complete vigilance in checking my assumptions, presumptions and perspectives and ensuring that to the extent that my limited abilities and capabilities permit me, that I reevaluate them and change as circumstances and cases before me requires. I can and do aspire to be greater than the sum total of my experiences but I accept my limitations. I willingly accept that we who judge must not deny the differences resulting from experience and heritage but attempt, as the Supreme Court suggests, continuously to judge when those opinions, sympathies and prejudices are appropriate.She’ll make an excellent Justice.

  5. NewsHound

    Oh – Newt -isn’t he now a lot like an obsolete fog horn stuck at an obsolete light house? Yes, he does still sound off.

  6. bostonmediawatch

    “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.”How about a white male who IS living as a Latina?

  7. Bill Baar

    Dan, She was perflectly clear about what she meant. Unless one’s background and history renders them senseless to her meaning.

  8. NewsHound

    bostonmediawatch – a white male living as a Latina – – – maybe the same – better equipped with life experience to make better judgments? Hardly. Let’s hope in the evolution and mental development of Sotomayor that she is able to rapidly move on and away from these thoughts and thus focus more clearly on current circumstances.

  9. b.f.

    Rather than appointing Manhattan landlord George Pavia's former corporate law firm partner to be a U.S. Supreme Court Justice, a more progressive choice might have been to just appoint a feminist tenants' lawyer, a feminist civil rights lawyer or a feminist anti-corporate labor lawyer, from an historically oppressed community, who currently still lived and worked in neighborhoods like the South Bronx.For another alternative perspective on the appointment of former Manhattan Assistant District Attorney and former Pavia & Harcourt law firm partner Sotomayer to the Supreme Court Bench, readers might also want to check out the Alexander Cockburn column that's posted on the following link:

  10. O-FISH-L

    Dan, good for you for pointing this out. Clearly, the NYT columnist and his editors, not Newt Gingrich, are the incoherent ones. Again, folks can blame craigslist and/or the Internet in general for the demise of newspapers but incidents like this one do their share of damage too. Tell me what separates the NY Times from the left wing blogs when a columnist has to “tie himself in knots” avoiding a direct quote in order to score a weak, political cheap shot against a Republican?

  11. arthur.kane

    Herbert’s column 6/2: all heat, no light.

  12. mike_b1

    Clearly, the NYT columnist and his editors, not Newt Gingrich, are the incoherent ones. *Guffaw!*

  13. Peter Porcupine

    DK – to return to the point you were making from the fringe political gibberish from both sides of the issue – I read/heard ‘Latina’ as an adjective modifying ‘woman’, as opposed to Hispanic, handicapped, courteous, African-American, etc. And wouldn’t the modifier agree with the gender of the noun?

  14. Dan Kennedy

    PP: American Heritage says Latina can be used as a noun or an adjective. But whereas a Latina judge seems fine, a Latina woman is kind of redundant.But if Sotomayor used Latina woman properly, so did Gingrich. On the other hand, Gingrich most certainly did not use racist properly.

  15. Don, American

    What makes her life experiences superior to anyone else’s? NOTHING.

  16. mike_b1

    Who said anything about “superior?”I think the point she was making was that she would have had a “broader” array of life experience, having lived in multiple worlds (as a Latin-American minority, as a female, and yes, in the environs of the best educational institutions in the world). Which is probably the case.And it’s important to note that the entirety of the case against her by the six Republicans left in America comes down not to a bench ruling or her qualifications but rather to a handful of inconsequential words during a speech made years ago. To paraphrase Elaine Benes: You got nothing.

  17. Bill Baar

    She was a Federal Judge when she said it Mike.For a Judge to talk as she did was very foolish. If she was taken out of context, we really need her to put the comments into her proper context because I think she badly damaged herself here.Kind of like worrying about whether readers will find Latina Women redundent… that goes over most English speakers heads, and most Hispanics because they understand the context English speakers need… but no one is going to doubt the meaning of Sotomeyer’s words.

  18. Steve

    Bill – I gave the link to the entire speech above, if you really care about context.

  19. Steve

    Shrimp Scampi!Pizza Pie!But I repeat myself.

  20. Dot Lane

    “When I get a case about discrimination, I have to think about people in my own family who suffered discrimination because of their ethnic background or because of religion or because of gender. And I do take that into account.”

  21. Steve

    Dot, don't drag Alito into this. It'll make lkcape's head explode.

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