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Senators Debate Sotomayor And The Word "Racist"

Senator Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., would not say whether the use of the word "racist" by some Republicans to describe Sonia Sotomayor, based on an 8-year-old comment by President Obama's Supreme Court nominee, was or was not fair, when asked by host Bob Schieffer on Face The Nation Sunday.

"Bob, I am not going to get drawn into characterizations before I have even met her," he said, noting that the Judiciary Committee (of which he is a member) will meet with the judge on Capitol Hill Tuesday.

Republicans have argued that a statement made by Sotomayor in 2001 may indicate that she will inject personal opinion into her rulings.

At Berkley, the judge said, "I would hope that a 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."

Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who is also on the Judiciary Committee, said she thinks the word racist in this nomination is "an absolutely terrible thing to throw around.

"This does not add any light to the debate, it only adds a kind of visceral and terrible heat," she argued.

Kyl said that the real issue raised by the statement is, "What is her judicial philosophy?

"Or does she believe that she can apply her own views, empathy for one party or another … regardless of what the law is?" Kyl asked.

Feinstein argued that the one problematic word in Sotomayor's statement is "better" — but admitted that she understands what she meant by her statement.

"You could say that the use of that word was inartful, but I think you have to look at the individual in respect to their context."

Bob Schieffer broke down the Republican argument that if the comment were reversed, someone would be in "in a heap of trouble."

Feinstein didn't bite, saying he heard Sotomayor's remark in the context of how she rose to her position against terrible odds. "We women have had to fight for everything we have gotten in the public arena," she said. "I'd say that one statement, probably made with a sense of a smile, you know, 'Here I am, I can do better,' I don't have a problem with it.

"It's not the right thing," Feinstein added, "but I don't think she meant it that way, either."

Kyl on the other hand said she will definitely have to assure members of the Judiciary Committee that she will live by the oath of the Supreme Court.

The Republican Senator took out a piece of paper and read the oath which reads, "'I will administer justice without respect to persons and do equal right to the poor and to the rich.'"

Kyl said that oath means that she will have "not bring in her empathy for the poor person, for example. If the law is on the side of the rich person, then she has to rule in favor of the rich person. If she will do that, then I think she'll have no trouble in her confirmation hearing."

More from Face The Nation (5.31.09):

  • Firefighters Case "Red Hot" For Sotomayor
  • Political Theater In Critics v. Sotomayor
  • Schieffer: Back On Planet Earth
  • Read The Complete Transcript> (pdf)

    To watch Jon Kyl and Dianne Feinstein discuss the Sotomayor nomination click on the video player below.