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Gibbs Judges Sotomayor

6:01 PM, May 29, 2009 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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"I think she'd say that her word choice in 2001 was poor," said White House press spokesperson Robert Gibbs un-empathetically today. Wasn't Gibbs's comment on his boss's Supreme Court nominee a bit harsh? Isn't a poor choice of words kind of a problem for a judge?

But Gibbs had just begun his attack on Sonia Sotomayor: "I think if she had the speech to do all over again, I think she'd change that word."

That word was "better," from the following statement in her 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."

What word would Gibbs have preferred? Apparently, something less judgmental than "better." "She was simply making the point that personal experiences are relevant to the process of judging, that your personal experiences have a tendency to make you more aware of certain facts in certain cases, that your experiences impact your understanding...."

So what Sotomayor meant to say, according to Gibbs, was simply that one set of experiences would lead you to a different conclusion as a judge than another--but not that one set is any "better" than another. Gibbs remained faithful to the core claim of identity politics--that judging can't really be impartial or blind. He just gave up on the claim that one identity is any better than another. He turned Sotomayor's statement from a silly expression of Latina pride into an assault on the possibility of impartial judging.

Good work.