Sotomayor Continues To Hold Her Ground At Confirmation Hearings

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Reporting from the Capitol

On her third day of confirmation hearings, Sonia Sotomayor appeared more relaxed and animated in her responses to questions by Senators. Through out the lengthy hearing, Sotomayor revealed few opinions on issues of guns, abortion, and criminal justice as she says she is limited by the confines of current law.

Sotomayor’s confirmation appears evident as none of the Democratic Senators in the Senate Judiciary Committee has come out in opposition. Even Republican Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) indicated that he would support her. Sotomayor has shown stamina and ability to hold her own against both supportive and judgmental Senators. New Democrat Arlen Spector (D-PA) called her record “exemplary.”

Although the questioning can be full of legalese, some lighter moments arose. One came when Republican Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) asked Sotomayor if people have the right to armed defense.

“If I go home, get a gun, come back and shoot you,” Sotomayor said to laughter. “You’d have lots of ‘explaining to do,” Coburn joked in response.

But this light moment arose amid serious questioning. Senator Coburn attempted to illicit a response of personal opinion on gun rights, but Sotomayor refused to expound beyond the realm of the law.

“It’s not that we make a broad policy choice and say this is what we want judges [to] do,” Sotomayor said. “We don’t make policy choices in the court.”

Lawmakers used the hearing as a platform to highlight issues important to them. For Republicans, guns, abortion and race took center stage. But just as she did with the second amendment, Sotomayor refused to give any insight on abortion or at what stage she believes life begins. During Tuesday’s session, she said Roe v. Wade is “settled” law.

Senator Coburn, a doctor and anti-abortion advocate, expressed disappointment that Sotomayor refused to give her personal opinion on policy. He pointed to comments she made at Duke University in 2005 where she said the district court is where policy is made.

“I am reminded by one of your comments in a speech you made that policy is made,” Coburn said.

Some members’ continued with their fixation on her position on racial politics. In response to Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), she said her comments were referring to comments made by former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor that a “a wise old man and a wise old woman reach the same conclusion.” Sotomayor said her efforts to play on O’Connor’s phrase “fell flat.” She said the role of the judge is to be “impartial.”

Democrats, meanwhile, continued to defend their President’s Supreme Court nominee, but they too delved into racial issues. They framed their race questions around the disparities in the criminal justice system.

In response to questions by Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) about disparities in crack and powder cocaine sentencing guidelines, Sotomayor offered a cautious position as she pointed to a recent Supreme Court decision. “The Court recognized that sentencing judges could take [the disparity] into consideration in fashioning an individual sentence for a defendant,” she said.

Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) attempted to ask Sotomayor about the Federal Election Commission v. Wisconsin Right to Life, a case on his campaign reform legislation which will be heard before the Supreme Court in early September. Sotomayor said it would be “inappropriate” to speak on what could be her first case on the Supreme Court.

Thursday, the Senate is expected to call on witnesses that will both defend and oppose Sotomayor. One of the witnesses testifying against her is Frank Ricci, the New Haven firefighter who brought a reverse discrimination suit against the city of New Haven. Ricci and fellow firefighters sat in the audience and observed Wednesday’s session. The NRA will also testify against her.

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