POLITICS
07/01/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Specter Backs Sotomayor: Race Still A Factor In American Society (VIDEO)

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As far as Sonia Sotomayor is concerned, Sen. Arlen Specter's defection to the Democratic Party couldn't have come at a better time. Specter (Penn.), long the most powerful Republican on the Judiciary Committee, has played pivotal roles in previous Supreme Court nomination battles.

This time he's fighting for the Democrats. On Fox News Sunday, Specter came to Sotomayor's defense when quizzed about a controversial Sotomayor ruling against a group of white firefighters in New Haven, Ct. More broadly, he defended the notion that race is still a factor in American society, which needs to be taken into account.

"I think she was well within the ambit of discretion of a judge. Different judges see issues differently. You have [the] Supreme Court deciding cases 5-4. But I think her judgment there was very sound," he said.

"Is race a factor? It really is in our society. There's no hiding from it. Notwithstanding all of the progress which has been made. [The] New Haven firefighter case, like so many tough ones, you want to be sure that the white applicants get a fair shot, but you want to be sure that minority applicants get a fair shot. It's a tough call. She made [a] justifiable call in my legal opinion."

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, still a Republican, was more critical about her decision in that case. But more broadly, he said, if Republicans use President Obama's own standard that he set as a senator -- that it was legitimate to oppose of nominee for ideological reasons -- then he could easily vote against Sotomayor, whom he described as an "activist." Obama opposed John Roberts and Sam Alito, who both went on to become Supreme Court justices.

"President Obama better hope that Republicans treat her better than he treat[ed] President Bush's (nominees)," Lindsey said.

Ryan Grim is the author of This Is Your Country On Drugs: The Secret History of Getting High in America, due out in June