POLITICS
08/08/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Ginsburg Defends Sotomayor's Wise Latina Remark: Reaction "Ridiculous"

In a long interview to be published in this week's New York Times Magazine, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg defended Judge Sonia Sotomayor much-ballyhooed "wise Latina" comment.

"There are some people in Congress who would criticize severely anyone President Obama nominated," Ginsburg said. "They'll seize on any handle. ... I thought it was ridiculous for them to make a big deal out of that. Think of how many times you've said something that you didn't get out quite right, and you would edit your statement if you could."

Q: Did you think that all the attention to the criticism of Sotomayor as being "bullying" or not as smart is sex-inflected? Does that have to do with the rarity of a woman in her position, and the particular challenges?

JUSTICE GINSBURG: I can't say that it was just that she was a woman. There are some people in Congress who would criticize severely anyone President Obama nominated. They'll seize on any handle. One is that she's a woman, another is that she made the remark about Latina women. [In 2001 Sotomayor 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."] And I thought it was ridiculous for them to make a big deal out of that. Think of how many times you've said something that you didn't get out quite right, and you would edit your statement if you could. I'm sure she meant no more than what I mean when I say: Yes, women bring a different life experience to the table. All of our differences make the conference better. That I'm a woman, that's part of it, that I'm Jewish, that's part of it, that I grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., and I went to summer camp in the Adirondacks, all these things are part of me.

Once Justice O'Connor was questioning counsel at oral argument. I thought she was done, so I asked a question, and Sandra said: Just a minute, I'm not finished. So I apologized to her and she said, It's O.K., Ruth. The guys do it to each other all the time, they step on each other's questions. And then there appeared an item in USA Today, and the headline was something like"Rude Ruth Interrupts Sandra."

As for how Sotomayor would fare on the court, Ginsburg said "she'll hold her own." She described herself as a product of affirmative action and dismissed criticism of the nominee on those grounds. Justice Ginsburg went on to share insightful opinions on the power and limitations of the court in combating gender-based discrimination. Read the whole interview here.

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