WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Friday sought to deflect criticism of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, who finds herself under scrutiny for saying in 2001 that a female Hispanic judge would often reach a better decision than a white male judge.
"I'm sure she would have restated it," Obama told NBC News in an interview that will air next week.
The quote in question from Sotomayor, a federal appeals court judge in New York, has emerged as a rallying call for conservative critics who fear she will offer opinions from the bench based less on the rule of law and more on her life experience, ethnicity and gender.
In defending her, Obama said her message was on target, even if her exact wording was not.
"I think that when she's appearing before the Senate committee, in her confirmation process, I think all this nonsense that is being spewed out will be revealed for what it is," Obama said in the broadcast interview.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters, "I think she'd say that her word choice in 2001 was poor."
Gibbs said he did not hear that from Sotomayor directly. He said he learned it from people who had talked to her. Sotomayor has made no public statements since her nomination on Tuesday.
A veteran federal judge, she is poised to be the first Hispanic and the third woman to serve on the Supreme Court.
She said in 2001: "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." The remark was in the context of her saying that "our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging."
Sotomayor's comments came during a lecture, titled "A Latina Judge's Voice," that she gave in 2001 at the law school of the University of California at Berkeley.
After three days of suggesting that reporters and critics should not dwell on one sentence from a speech, the White House had a different message Friday.
"If you look in the entire sweep of the essay that she wrote, what's clear is that she was simply saying that her life experiences will give her information about the struggles and hardships that people are going through, that will make her a good judge," Obama said in the NBC interview.