Conservative critics have seized on a speech Sotomayor made in 2001 at a University of California at Berkeley conference on diversity, where she said, "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."
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has called Sotomayor a "Latina racist" and said she should withdraw her nomination and should not even get a vote in the Senate.
In the same speech, Sotomayor pointed out that the landmark Brown decision of 1954, outlawing segregation in public schools, was made by nine white men, Obama said in his NBC interview.
"So that's hardly the kind of statement that would indicate that she subscribes to identity politics," the president said. "Part of the job of a justice on the Supreme Court, or any judge, is to be able to stand in somebody else's shoes, to be able to understand the nature of the case and how it has an impact on people's ordinary day-to-day lives."
The president said Sotomayor might choose different words if she could deliver the Berkeley speech again, suggesting he might agree with his spokesman, Robert Gibbs, who called her choice of words "poor." But Gibbs told White House reporters Friday Sotomayor was "simply making the point that personal experiences are relevant to the process of judging.