No speeches. No newspaper interviews. No debates. In the six months leading up to his election in 1860, Abraham Lincoln made no public comments. Zilch! That wasn't unusual. Presidential candidates back then would consider today's bombastic campaigns an affront to the dignity of that office.

There was another reason Lincoln kept mum, however. In the highly charged environment that would ultimately lead to civil war, he didn't want any preelection statement about slavery to be taken out of context and used against him. Lincoln even limited his letter-writing.

Switching from a history lesson to today, it wouldn't have helped Judge Sonia Sotomayor to keep quiet for six months before her nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. Her critics have dug back eight years to find words to take out of context in trying to block Sotomayor's appointment.

"I would hope that a 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," said the woman who hopes to become the court's first Hispanic justice.

The remarks, made in a 2001 speech at the University of California, Berkeley, were part of a discussion on the lack of diversity in the judiciary. In that context, Sotomayor was clearly saying that how, and where, a judge grew up could provide useful information in reaching a decision. That's insight, not prejudice.

The response eight years later from those who will grab at any straw to derail President Obama's court pick has been outrageous. "Here you have a racist," screamed radio talker Rush Limbaugh. "New racism is no better than old racism," said Republican political strategist Newt Gingrich, though he pulled back from the R-word yesterday.

But some good could come out of even this manufactured controversy, if it leads to a discussion of diversity - minus the hype. First of all, Sotomayor is absolutely right: Experience matters, and not just in dispensing justice. African American Justice Clarence Thomas and Italian American Justice Samuel Alito have said the same thing. No one is asking them to leave the bench. At least, not for that reason.

Judges shouldn't be robots dispensing computer-printout justice that does not take humanity into account. They should use every bit of information available, including personal experience, in applying the law. To do so recognizes that our laws were written by man, and man isn't infallible. That the Constitution has needed amending is proof of that.

It isn't racist to say that a Latina judge - or journalist, for that matter - could see nuances that a person of another heritage may miss. Such insight, used properly, can make the truth clearer, and justice more certain. It's an attribute, not a disqualifier.