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Published: Tuesday, 6/9/2009

You can't take back a slur

IN ATTEMPTING to retract an ugly

charge he laid on federal appeals court judge and Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, is as usual trying to have it both ways.

Mr. Gingrich had accused Ms. Sotomayor of being a "racist" for saying in a 2001 speech, "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."

White males from Rush Limbaugh to G. Gordon Liddy to Pat Buchanan pounced on the statement as evidence that Ms. Sotomayor would take a "racist" agenda to the highest court.

Because Ms. Sotomayor is a member of the National Council of La Raza, a civil rights organization, former Colorado congressman and Republican presidential candidate Tom Tancredo has accused her of being affiliated with the Hispanic version of the Ku Klux Klan.

Since none of Ms. Sotomayor's critics in the Republican caucus are known for strong civil rights advocacy, the charge of racism is particularly galling as well as ridiculous. The tactic hasn't gotten much traction, anyway, a fact that may have finally dawned on Mr. Gingrich.

"My initial reaction was strong and direct - perhaps too strong and too direct," Mr. Gingrich wrote in Human Events, a conservative publication. "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)."

The rhetoric swirling around Ms. Sotomayor's nomination has been toxic from the start. Sliming the Supreme Court nominee of the opposing party has been the favorite tactic of both Republicans and Democrats since the Bork hearings, but this has been excessive even by those low standards.

Mr. Gingrich deserves some credit for retracting his initial criticism of Judge Sotomayor, but not a lot. The charge is still out there, making the confirmation process more difficult for a Supreme Court nominee than it should be.



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