Sotomayor Pledges Decisions Without Racial Bias
14 July 2009
President Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor, faces a third day of questioning Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee considering her nomination. Judge Sotomayor told lawmakers on Tuesday that she would not allow personal views, sympathies or her ethnic background to influence her decisions if she is confirmed to the high court.
|Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, before the Senate Judiciary Committee, 14 Jul 2009|
It will be another grueling day for Sotomayor as the committee considers her nomination by President Barack Obama to serve on the Supreme Court.
On Tuesday, she responded in detail to criticisms by Republicans that some of her past statements indicate she would allow her ethnic background or personal views to influence decisions she would make on the Supreme Court.
Committee chairman Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy opened the door on that issue, asking Sotomayor to explain remarks in 2001 when she said "a wise Latina" might reach a better conclusion [when judging a case] than a white man without the same life experiences.
Sotomayor said her remarks were aimed at inspiring young Latino lawyers and law students, and she made this pledge.
"I want to state up front, unequivocally and without doubt, I do not believe that any ethnic, racial or gender group has an advantage in sound judging," she said. "I do believe that every person has an equal opportunity to be a good and wise judge regardless of their background or life experiences."
Sotomayor was pressed further by senior Republican committee member Senator Jeff Sessions.
|Sen. Jeff Sessions questions Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, on Capitol Hill in Washington during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, 14 Jul 2009|
"You have repeatedly made this statement," he said. "I accept the proposition that a difference there will be, by the presence of women and people of color on the bench, and that my experiences affect the facts I choose to see as a judge. That is troubling to me as a lawyer."
In response, Sotomayor said personal background can play a role in informing the law, but the law ultimately prevails.
"I do believe that life experiences are important to the process of judging, they help you to understand and listen, but that the law requires a result and it will command you to the facts that are relevant to the disposition of the case," she said.
Sotomayor was also asked about the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe versus Wade, which established a woman's right to choose to have an abortion.
Describing it as settled legal precedent, she noted that the decision was reaffirmed in a later 1992 case, and added she believes the Constitution provides a right to privacy that was the legal foundation of the Roe v Wade case.
At the end of day two, committee Democrats said Sotomayor did an excellent job responding to questions, including those from Republican Lindsey Graham who asked about some harsh criticisms from lawyers of Sotomayor's temperament. Sotomayor asserted these criticisms related to her tough questioning of lawyers in court.
Minnesota Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar assessed Sotomayor this way.
"Judge Sotomayor's conduct today and the way she handled all of this was just one example of her good temperament and her forcefulness and her ability to command the facts and the law," she said.
The committee chairman, Senator Leahy, said Wednesday's session with Sotomayor will be followed by the traditional closed door meeting lawmakers hold with Supreme Court nominees, and if necessary a second round of questioning.
If confirmed committee and the full Senate, Sotomayor would become the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice and only the third woman to sit on the nine-member Supreme Court.