Let me start with something that I think should be fairly uncontroversial, given its pride of place in the Western canon on philosophical axioms:
When Judge Sonia Sotomayor talks about the role of experience and her identity as a wise Latina woman, she is not sounding some crazy radical pomo activist socialist whateverist scary siren song of identity politics and--as the more ridiculous critics have termed it--racism. (Honestly?) She is stating something obvious and unavoidable, and something absolutely necessary to the process of making decent judgments about, well, anything. Know thyself. Plato said it first, and I guess we'd put him in the category of hallowed white males, wouldn't we.
In the lecture that the supposedly damning quote is pulled out of, Sotomayor makes two points, both of which hang on the necessity of knowing yourself as a part of the process of making judgments. The first is that being who you are, whether that's a "wise Latina woman" or a "white male," is a specific identity, the cumulative result of a lifetime of experience and circumstances that are unique to each person. This is the part where the quote comes from. The controversy about it comes not from her acknowledging that she is a Latina--which everyone is busy pointing out as well. It's fine that she's willing to acknowledge the specificity of her identity. The controversy comes from the presumption that a Latina's specific experiences are a valid perspective from which to judge. That presumption means not just that Sotomayor is rejecting the idea of some universally objective non-personal standpoint but that she regards Latina experience as on par with any other American experience, equally valid and representative. And this is only controversial because in his country, apparently, we still retain the idea that there is some kind of universal American experience and identity from which all judgments should be made--and that this universal American experience and identity is the epistemological possession of white men. (If Sotomayor were willing to say it doesn't make a difference that her body is Latina because her mind is the same as a white male's, then we would call her "fair" and "objective" and "dispassionate." She would also, of course, be a liar, but that lie is one that we cherish and like to hear.)
Of course, not all Americans are white or male, a point that Sotomayor also makes. Most of the defenses of her that I've heard focus on this point, arguing that she is talking about her Latina experiences as particularly relevant in the context of discrimination cases. As true as this may be, it is the wrong defense to make, because it emphasizes the experiential gap between the "wise Latina woman" and the white male--precisely the thing that scares the pants off of all the white males calling her racist at the moment.
It would be smarter--and more relevant--to point out that Sotomayor goes on to make the second point, also connected to 'knowing thyself,' that acknowledging one's specific experiences and identity does not mean one is unable to understand that other experiences are real, valid, and require understanding. Rather, it means the opposite. Being a wise Latina woman does not mean that she can only properly understand the experiences of other Latina women, or that she makes Latina experience universal for everyone in an epistemological oppression mirroring the supposed universalism of the particular experience of white maleness. Understanding that her experiences are particular, not universal, she can therefore perceive the need to actively seek to understand experiences not her own. Only if you understand the particularity of your own experiences can you get the fact that other people's experiences may differ from your own. The larger question Sotomayor addresses in her lecture is how one goes beyond the particularity of personal experiences in the process of making judgments: does one do by aspiring to some sort of universal standpoint outside onself, "objectivity," or does one do it precisely through acknowledging the preferences and presumptions one's own experience has provided, seek to evaluate their relevance and impact on one's decision making, and possibly revise or even counter them in light of the experiences of others? Sotomayor advocates the latter. As any honest thinker should--and must. This is what makes her, not simply a Latina woman, but a wise Latina woman.