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Republicans keep heat on Sotomayor

WASHINGTON – Republicans kept pressure on Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor on Wednesday, hoping to use her confirmation hearing in Congress to paint her as judicial activist who will help President Barack Obama stamp the court with his liberal agenda.

On her third day before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sotomayor rejected suggestions that she had been vetted by the Obama White House for her stance on issues such as abortion.

And Sotomayor, who is poised to become the top court’s first Hispanic justice, brushed aside comments by a former boss at a New York law firm that she had “generally liberal instincts.”

Republican Senator John Cornyn asked Sotomayor if she worried that her speeches may have left the impression that she believes “the quality of justice depends on the sex, race, or ethnicity of the judge.”

“I would regret that,” Sotomayor said. “The role of judges is to ensure that they are applying the law.”

Political observers say Sotomayor is all but guaranteed confirmation to the Supreme Court, whose nine members serve for life and rule on cases touching the most basic issues of American life including abortion, religion and gun rights. She would be only the third woman and third non-white judge ever to serve on the court, replacing retired Justice David Souter as one of four liberals facing five conservatives led by Chief Justice John Roberts.

Both Republicans and Democrats have praised Sotomayor’s long career as a prosecutor and a judge, calling it an inspirationally American story for a woman born to Puerto Rican parents and brought up in a New York City housing project.

But critics have focused attention on some of her speeches in which she appeared to say that ethnicity and gender play a role in judicial decisions — a red flag for those who fear law could be twisted to suit political priorities.

Sotomayor has dismissed this interpretation, saying her judicial philosophy was informed by life experience but governed by statute.

“The process of judging for me is what life experience brings to the process. It helps you listen and understand. It doesn’t change what the law is or what the law commands,” she said.



In line with other Supreme Court nominees, Sotomayor declined directly to answer a question on her view of abortion, saying it was impossible to discuss in the abstract without reference to specific state laws.

But she did reject the notion that she had been vetted by Obama and the White House on the abortion issue. “I was asked no questions by anyone, including the president, about my views on any specific legal issue,” she said.

Sotomayor also brushed aside comments by her former boss at a New York law firm, George Pavia, who said that she had generally liberal instincts.

“He has not read my jurisprudence for 17 years, I can assure you. He’s a corporate litigator. And my experience with corporate litigators is that they only look at the law when it affects the case before them,” she said to chuckles in the hearing.

Sotomayor has been grilled over an appeals court decision she made which upheld New Haven, Connecticut’s right to toss out firefighter exam results which did not produce enough qualified black candidates.

Several firefighters appeared in full uniform at Wednesday’s hearing and at least one is expected to testify on Thursday about the case, which later saw the Supreme Court overrule Sotomayor’s appellate decision.

Sotomayor was pressed on the issue of gun rights, where she said she agreed with Supreme Court rulings which accept the basic right of Americans to bear arms as well as certain limits on how those guns can be used.

“If I go home and get a gun and shoot you, that may not be legal under New York law…I couldn’t do that under a definition of self defense,” she told Republican Senator Tom Coburn, to laughter from the audience.