Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) drew a false equivalence between presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump’s racist claims about a federal judge and comments made by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor about the importance of a diverse judiciary, prior to her nomination.
The claim by Grassley -- who, as Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, is playing a key role in unprecedented Republican obstructionism of Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court -- echoed a false right-wing talking point recently employed by Fox News’ Sean Hannity, CNN’s pro-Donald Trump commentator Jeffrey Lord, and other conservative figures.
During a June 8 conference call with The Des Moines Register, Grassley reportedly said, “I think that you don’t have any more trouble with what Trump said than when Sotomayor said that -- when she was found saying in speeches that, quote, ‘A wise Latina woman with the richness of her experience would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male.’”
Hours later when asked about his claim by NBC News correspondent Hallie Jackson, Grassley sought to walk back his comments. Despite having said that he didn't have “any more trouble” with Trump's racist remarks compared to Sotomayor's past statements, Grassley told NBC News, “I don't have to explain it. You just can't equate the two, and I wasn't meaning to equate the two.”
Sotomayor did make the “wise Latina” remark in several speeches before she was nominated to the Supreme Court when discussing how much of U.S jurisprudence has been written by white men as opposed to by women and people of color.
After the remark was raised during her confirmation hearing, Sotomayor clarified what she meant, stating, “I want to state upfront, unequivocally and without doubt: I do not believe that any ethnic, racial or gender group has an advantage in sound judging. I do believe every person has an equal opportunity to be a good and wise judge, regardless of their background or life experience.”
Sotomayor explained the purpose of the remark was to inspire students “to believe they could become anything they wanted to become, just as I have.” The full context made that clear, as the future justice noted she sought to become more than the “sum total of my experiences”:
I am reminded each day that I render decisions that affect people concretely and that I owe them constant and complete vigilance in checking my assumptions, presumptions and perspectives and ensuring that to the extent that my limited abilities and capabilities permit me, that I reevaluate them and change as circumstances and cases before me requires. I can and do aspire to be greater than the sum total of my experiences but I accept my limitations. I willingly accept that we who judge must not deny the differences resulting from experience and heritage but attempt, as the Supreme Court suggests, continuously to judge when those opinions, sympathies and prejudices are appropriate.
By comparison, Trump has made repeated racist attacks against federal Judge Gonzalo Curiel -- who is presiding over a lawsuit against Trump over fraud allegations concerning Trump University business practices -- including claiming bias from the judge because “he’s a Mexican.”
Trump claimed that Curiel, who is in fact an American born in Indiana, has an “inherent conflict of interest” because of Trump’s promise to build a wall between the United States and Mexico. Trump’s remarks on Curiel were so blatantly rooted in the offensive assumption that all people of Mexican descent think or act the same that even Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) characterized them as “the textbook definition of a racist comment.”
In his comments to the Register, Grassley also said of Sotomayor’s past statement, “I don’t hear any criticism of that sort of comment by a justice of the Supreme Court” -- even though conservative media relentlessly attacked her nomination in 2009 over the partial and misrepresented quote. Grassley was aware of the manufactured controversy at the time -- ABC News asked him why he didn’t ask the then-nominee about the statement during her confirmation hearing, and he said he didn’t want to “beat a dead horse” -- and he later cited The Washington Post’s discussion of the matter in his prepared statement explaining his “No” vote on Sotomayor’s confirmation.