Commentary: Spare us the partisan mudslinging on Sotomayor

Sonia Sotomayor undercut her critics and supporters alike Tuesday by simply walking away from the line that's been bedeviling her nomination for the U.S. Supreme Court.

The line, from a 2001 speech to group of Latino law students: "I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experience would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."

To the Senate Judiciary Committee, though, she said, "It was bad ... a rhetorical flourish that fell flat." The remark was meant to inspire minorities, she said, but they left the false impression "that I believed that life experiences commanded a result in a case."

Sotomayor's liberal supporters have been tying themselves in knots trying to defend those unfortunate words. Conservatives say they betray an inclination to skew justice in favor of select groups. Her explanation was reasonable, and it came with a welcome promise to apply the law even-handedly.

Not that she'll ever satisfy conservatives. In some cases, there's no one, objective, indisputable way to construe the language of the Constitution.

Such phrases as "equal protection," "due process" and "cruel and unusual," are open-ended by design. They allow fundamental constitutional principles to be applied under changing circumstances. Jurists have argued over their meaning for generations, and they'll be arguing over them for generations hence.

There's every reason to expect that Sotomayor will often align herself with the liberal side of those arguments, just like Justice David Souter, whom she will replace.

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