Gingrich walks back Sotomayor "racist" comment

The former House speaker tries to explain away his remark, but has the damage already been done?

By Alex Koppelman

Published June 3, 2009 2:30PM (EDT)

Good news, everyone: Judge Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama's pick for the Supreme Court, isn't a racist after all.

This according to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who had earlier, on Twitter, written, "Imagine a judicial nominee said 'my experience as a white man makes me better than a latina woman' new racism is no better than old racism," and then followed up with "White man racist nominee would be forced to withdraw. Latina woman racist should also withdraw."

Now, in a piece for Human Events, Gingrich writes:

My initial reaction was strong and direct -- perhaps too strong and too direct. The sentiment struck me as racist and I said so. Since then, some who want to have an open and honest consideration of Judge Sotomayor’s fitness to serve on the nation’s highest court have been critical of my word choice.

With these critics who want to have an honest conversation, I agree. The word “racist” should not have been applied to Judge Sotomayor as a person, even if her words themselves are unacceptable (a fact which both President Obama and his Press Secretary, Robert Gibbs, have since admitted).

Later in the piece, Gingrich says he wants to turn the discussion about Sotomayor's nomination into one about judicial impartiality. Thing is, it's probably too late to change course now. Gingrich and others, like Rush Limbaugh, have set the tone for the Republican response to Sotomayor -- and it's often been an ugly tone. They'll have trouble putting the genie back in the bottle now.

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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