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Sotomayor Answers Critics in Opening Statement

Supreme Court hopeful Sonia Sotomayor used her opening statement to the Judiciary Committee on Monday to try to mollify GOP concerns that she would bring a political agenda to the bench, saying philosophy is based on a “fidelity to the law.—President Barack Obama’s first Supreme Court pick explicitly rejected charges that her ethnicity would bias her rulings. “Throughout my 17 years on the bench, I have witnessed the human consequences of my decisions. Those decisions have been made not to serve the interests of any one litigant, but always to serve the larger interest of impartial justice,— Sotomayor said.Sotomayor’s brief statement capped a long day of opening remarks by members of the committee that largely laid out the battle lines over her nomination for the coming days. The confirmation hearings are expected to span the week, with an eye toward full Senate consideration in early August.Sotomayor’s statement appeared designed to respond to the attacks that have been leveled against her. Some GOP Senators and conservative judicial groups have asserted that she would allow her race or gender to influence her decision-making.But in her statement, Sotomayor sought to temper those concerns, arguing that she has spent her judicial career closely adhering to the law. Sotomayor serves on the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals.“It is clear, I believe, that my record in two courts reflects my rigorous commitment to interpreting the Constitution according to its terms; interpreting statutes according to their terms and Congress’s intent; and hewing faithfully to precedents established by the Supreme Court and my Circuit Court. In each case I have heard, I have applied the law to the facts at hand,— Sotomayor said.At one point, Sotomayor appeared to make a passing reference to a controversial comment in which she said a Latina would arrive at a better conclusion than a white male jurist, noting that her life experience would help guide her case evaluation — even as she is also guided by the law.“The process of judging is enhanced when the arguments and concerns of the parties to the litigation are understood and acknowledged. That is why I generally structure my opinions by setting out what the law requires and then by explaining why a contrary position, sympathetic or not, is accepted or rejected. That is how I seek to strengthen both the rule of law and faith in the impartiality of our justice system. My personal and professional experiences help me listen and understand, with the law always commanding the result in every case,— Sotomayor said.Sotomayor also used her opening statement to put some distance between her current work as a judge on the appeals court and her work with the controversial Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund.While not directly naming PRLDEF, Sotomayor noted that when she was confirmed as a federal district judge, she ended her work as “an advocate.—“My career as an advocate ended — and my career as a judge began — when I was appointed by President George H.W. Bush to the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York,— Sotomayor said.Sotomayor, if approved, would be the Supreme Court’s first Latina justice and third woman. Senate Democrats are hoping to confirm her before the August recess and have her in place for the Supreme Court’s second session, which begins in early October.