Howard Dean Says Sotomayor's Race Comment Taken Out of Context--Then Admits He Doesn't Know the Context

By Penny Starr | June 1, 2009 | 6:39 PM EDT

Howard Dean gestures during an interview with The Associated Press in this March, 2008 file photo when Dean was chairman of the Democratic National Committee. (AP Photo)

( - Former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean told yesterday that Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor's comment 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" has been taken out of context by critics.

Then he immediately conceded that he himself had not actually read the full context of the speech in which Sotomayor made the comment.
The comment, in fact, was made on Oct. 26, 2001 when Judge Sotomayor gave the Judge Mario G. Olmos Memorial Lecture at the law school at the University of California at Berkeley.  The lecture was delivered during a symposium sponsored by the La Raza Law Journal, the Berkeley La Raza Law Students Association, the Boalt Hall Center for Social Justice and the Center for Latino Policy Research. The symposium was entitled, "Raising the Bar: Latino and Latina Presence in the Judiciary and the Struggle for Representation."  
The context in which Sotomayor made the comments was as follows:

“Whether born from experience or inherent physiological or cultural differences, a possibility I abhor less or discount less than my colleague Judge Cedarbaum, our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging," said Sotomayor.

"Justice O'Connor has often been cited as saying that a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases. I am not so sure Justice O'Connor is the author of that line since Professor Resnik attributes that line to Supreme Court Justice Coyle," said Sotomayor. "I am also not so sure that I agree with the statement. First, as Professor Martha Minnow has noted, there can never be a universal definition of wise. Second, 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.” 

These remarks have been criticized as suggesting that one person can be a better judge than another simply because of their race.

On Monday, at the Campaign for America’s Future convention in Washington D.C., Dean told “I think that remark was totally taken out of context because it was truncated.”
Then Dean admitted he had not read Sotomayor’s speech, but cited his own experience with the media during his 2004 bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.
“I haven’t read the piece, but I know it was taken out of context,” Dean told “People did that to me when I was running for president. It’s a favorite media trick.
“It was one sentence that they took out of a15- or 16-page statement that she was making,” Dean said. “It’s a ridiculous controversy about nothing.”