Huffpost Politics

Obama Addresses "Identity Politics" Accusations (VIDEO)

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WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama on Friday personally sought to deflect criticism of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, who finds herself under intensifying scrutiny for saying in 2001 that a female Hispanic judge would often reach a better decision than a white male judge. "I'm sure she would have restated it," Obama flatly told NBC News, while criticizing "all this nonsense that is being spewed out" by Sotomayor's critics.

The quote in question from Sotomayor has emerged as a rallying call for conservative critics who fear she will offer opinions from the bench based less on the rule of law and more on her life experience, ethnicity and gender. That issue is likely to play a central role in her Senate confirmation process.

Obama defended his nominee, saying her message was on target even if her exact wording was not.

"I think that when she's appearing before the Senate committee, in her confirmation process, I think all this nonsense that is being spewed out will be revealed for what it is," Obama said in the broadcast interview.

More from the interview (full transcript below):

OBAMA: You know, she was pointing out, in that same essay, that it was nine white males who passed down Brown versus Board of Education, which is probably responsible for me sitting here. So that's hardly the kind of statement that would indicate that she subscribes to identity politics. In fact, what she really subscribes to is the exact opposite. Which is the sense that all of us have life experiences and struggles. And part of the job of a justice on the Supreme Court, or any judge, is to be able to stand in somebody else's shoes, to be able to, you know, understand that the nature of the case, and how it has an impact on people's ordinary day to day lives.

Also on Friday, Tom Goldstein, a partner at the law firm Akin Gump, published an analysis of 50 recent race-related cases that Sotomayor had ruled on. "In those 50 cases, the panel accepted the claim of race discrimination only three times," Goldstein wrote. "In all three cases, the panel was unanimous; in all three, it included a Republican appointee. In roughly 45, the claim was rejected. (Two were procedural dispositions.)"

The president's damage control underscored how the White House is eager to stay on message as the battle to publicly define Sotomayor picks up.

Obama's top spokesman, Robert Gibbs, told reporters about Sotomayor: "I think she'd say that her word choice in 2001 was poor."

Gibbs, however, said he did not hear that from Sotomayor directly. He said he learned it from people who had talked to her, and he did not identify who those people were. Sotomayor herself has made no public statements since her nomination became official Tuesday and was not reachable for comment.

A veteran federal judge, Sotomayor is poised to be the first Hispanic, and the third woman, to serve on the Supreme Court.

She said in 2001: "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." The remark was in the context her saying that "our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging."

Sotomayor's comments came in a lecture, titled "A Latina Judge's Voice," that she gave in 2001 at the law school of the University of California, Berkeley.

After three days of suggesting that reporters and critics should not dwell on one sentence from a speech, the White House had a different message Friday.

"If you look in the entire sweep of the essay that she wrote, what's clear is that she was simply saying that her life experiences will give her information about the struggles and hardships that people are going through, that will make her a good judge," Obama said in the broadcast interview.

Sotomayor appears headed for confirmation, needing a majority vote in a Senate, where Democrats have 59 votes. But beyond the final vote, White House officials are pushing for a smooth confirmation, not one that bogs down them or their nominee. Plus, Obama wants a strong win, not a slim one.

Obama told NBC that part of the job of a Supreme Court justice is to stand in somebody else's shoes and that Sotomayor will do that. "That breadth of experience, that knowledge of how the world works, is part of what we want for a justice who's going be effective," Obama said.

TRANSCRIPT FROM NBC NEWS:

WILLIAMS: "This is the quote, 'I would hope that a wise Latino 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.' It's your judgment perhaps, having talked to the judge, that as we say, that's one of those she'd rather have back if she had it to redo?"

OBAMA: "I'm sure she would have restated it. But if you look in the entire sweep of the essay that she wrote, what's clear is that she was simply saying that her life experiences will give her information about the struggles and hardships that people are going through - that will make her a good judge.

And you know, she was pointing out, in that same essay, that it was nine white males who passed down Brown versus Board of Education, which is probably responsible for me sitting here. So that's hardly the kind of statement that would indicate that she subscribes to identity politics. In fact, what she really subscribes to is the exact opposite. Which is the sense that all of us have life experiences and struggles. And part of the job of a justice on the Supreme Court, or any judge, is to be able to stand in somebody else's shoes, to be able to, you know, understand that the nature of the case, and how it has an impact on people's ordinary day to day lives.

And so her, as a Latino woman part of her job is gonna 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. It means that she has an understanding of what a corporate CEO might be thinking. And she had those experiences as well. Having worked as a corporate litigator. That breadth of experience, that knowledge of how the world works, is part of what we want for a justice who's gonna be effective. And I think that when she's appearing before the senate committee, in her confirmation process, I think all this nonsense that is being spewed out will be revealed for what it is."