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Powell Defends Sotomayor Ruling Against White Firefighters

WASHINGTON -- Colin Powell, one of the nation's most prominent African-Americans, is going after people who attacked Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor because of her stand in favor of affirmative action.

Powell, who's from the same Bronx neighborhood in New York as Sotomayor, said she should face "a spirited set of hearings" in the Senate. But he said the federal appeals court judge, who would be the first Hispanic justice, shouldn't be condemned for ruling against white firefighters who contended they suffered reverse discrimination.

"What we can't continue to have is to have somebody like a Judge Sotomayor ... called a racist, a reverse racist and she ought to withdraw her nomination because we're mad at her," Powell said in an interview broadcast Sunday on "State of the Union" on CNN.

Powell made it clear that he was referring to critics outside the Senate.

"Fortunately, the senators who will sit on this hearing in the Judiciary Committee, after a few days of this kind of nonsense, said, `Let's slow down, let's examine her qualifications in the way we're supposed to at a confirmation hearing."' The committee begins hearings July 13.

Powell said Sotomayor has "an open and liberal bent of mind, but that's not disqualifying. But she seems to have a judicial record that seems to be balanced and tries to follow the law."

Powell, a Republican who supported Obama, said his party still is not sensitive enough toward minorities.

He noted that Obama had a significant advantage with Hispanics and African-Americans in the November elections. He criticized Republicans who are not elected to office and "immediately shout racism" against Sotomayor, while accusing Powell of supporting Obama because both men are black.

"We still have a problem," he said.

Radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh has called Powell "just another liberal," said he should become a Democrat and charged that Powell endorsed Obama based on race. Powell said Sunday that Limbaugh "doesn't decide who I am or what I am no more than I decide who he is or what he is."

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 last Monday that white firefighters in Connecticut were unfairly denied promotion because of their race. The justices threw out a decision that Sotomayor had endorsed as an appeals court judge.