It may go too far to call her a racist -- not necessarily because she doesn't fit the technical definition, but because she doesn't fit the popular, emotional definition of one. She's not an evil bigot, which is what the word "racist" colloquially suggests.
So maybe we can call her a "racialist." She certainly doesn't seem to believe in official colorblindness. Just ask Frank Ricci, the fireman denied a promotion simply because he's white. He sought justice in her court, but Sotomayor couldn't muster the requisite empathy to give him a fair hearing.
There's a lot more to Sotomayor's views on race that seems worth talking about, and her record is far from indefensible. In many ways, she's a perfectly mainstream liberal jurist. All the more reason liberals should defend her positions openly, rather than dismiss or deny them.
Obama and the Democratic Party indisputably share the broad outlines of her approach to racial issues. But rather than calmly defend her, they hide behind the robes of the first Latina Supreme Court pick and shout "bigot" at anyone who fails to throw rose petals at her feet.
And that is pretty much what liberals always do when it comes to race. They invite everyone to a big, open-minded conversation, but the moment anyone disagrees with them, they shout "racist" and force the dissenters to figuratively don dunce caps and renounce their reactionary views. Then, when the furor dies down, they again offer up grave lamentations about the lack of "honest dialogue." It's a mixture of Kabuki dance and whack-a-mole.
The irony of the current brouhaha is that the roles are somewhat reversed. Conservatives are shouting "racist," and liberals are scrambling to explain themselves.
I'm willing to concede, happily, that liberals aren't cartoonish villains for believing that certain preferred minorities deserve special treatment under the law. Unfortunately, too many liberals are unwilling to offer the same courtesy in return.
So here's an idea. Let's assume both sides have a serious and well-intentioned perspective and talk it out. Now.