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Sotomayor to face critics at hearings Tuesday


Latest update : 2009-07-15

US Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor faces the Senate Judiciary Committee for the second day of her hearings on Tuesday, with the senators split across party lines. If confirmed, Sotomayor would be the first Hispanic justice on the top US court.

AFP - Sonia Sotomayor, almost sure to become the first Hispanic US Supreme Court justice, was expected to face tough questioning Tuesday from Republican senators openly skeptical of her impartiality.

The appeals court judge was scheduled to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee at 9:30 am (1330 GMT) for the second of at least four days of hearings that are all but certain to lead to her historic confirmation that would also see her become the third woman on the nation's highest court.

Seven weeks after President Barack Obama nominated her to the nine-member bench that serves as the final arbiter of the US Constitution, Sotomayor told her critics Monday that her judicial philosophy is "fidelity to the law."

But Sotomayor, 55, made no apology for past writings in which she vaunted the merits of bringing personal experience to bear on court cases, which Obama had praised as her "empathy" and Republicans have tarred as bias.

"My personal and professional experiences help me to listen and understand, with the law always commanding the result in every case," she said, in the highlight of a day-long hearing interrupted four times by shouting protesters.

Sotomayor, whose family hails from the US Caribbean territory of Puerto Rico, also celebrated her rise from a poor childhood in New York city's hardscrabble Bronx borough to the pinnacle of US judicial life, calling it "uniquely American."

For much of the day-long hearing, Sotomayor sat quietly, often rewarding her Democratic defenders with smiles and nods as they feuded over her temperament and qualifications with Obama's Republican critics.

Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, the panel's chairman, recalled bitter resistance to the first black, Jewish and Catholic Supreme Court nominees, noting today's "different era" and praising Sotomayor as rigorously fair.

"She understands that there is not one law for one race or another. There is not one law for one color or another. There is not one law for rich and a different one for poor. There is only one law," said the senator from Vermont.

But the committee's top Republican, Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, warned he will not vote for Sotomayor unless convinced that she would follow the law impartially, without letting personal views decide key cases.

"I will not vote for -- no senator should vote for -- an individual nominated by any president who believes it is acceptable for a judge to allow their own personal background, gender, prejudices or sympathies to sway their decision in favor of, or against, parties before the court," said Sessions.

"Call it empathy, call it prejudice or call it sympathy, but whatever it is, it's not law. In truth, it's more akin to politics, and politics has no place in the courtroom," he said.

But her confirmation was virtually assured: Democrats dominate the committee and have, at least on paper, the 60 votes needed to overrun any Republican effort in the Senate to stymie the nomination.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham drew knowing laughter when he told Sotomayor: "Unless you have a complete meltdown, you're going to get confirmed."

Sotomayor would replace retiring Justice David Souter on the high court, which often confronts volatile political and social issues, including gun control and abortion.

The panel was to hear from 31 witnesses, including former FBI director Louis Freeh, who mentored Sotomayor, and Linda Chavez, a conservative activist.

Republicans have given one of their 14 witness slots to one of the white firefighters whose claim of racial discrimination Sotomayor rejected -- only to have the Supreme Court reverse her ruling in late June.

An anti-abortion protester briefly disrupted Monday's proceedings, shouting: "What about the unborn? Abortion is murder!" before police removed him. Other individual protesters did the same at sporadic intervals.

Sotomayor's rise from her poor childhood in New York to the pinnacle of US justice mirrors Obama's own storybook ascent to power.

Princeton-educated Sotomayor would be the second woman currently on the court, alongside Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and the third after retired justice Sandra Day O'Connor. She would also be the 111th justice to serve on the bench.

Date created : 2009-07-14