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Sotomayor Confirmation Hearing Begins

Shantella Y. Sherman | 7/15/2009, 11:01 p.m.

Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor began her first day of a three-day confirmation hearing by thanking her mother and President Barack Obama. In a process Sen. Lindsey Graham (R- S.C.) called a €sure thing barring a complete meltdown,€ Sotomayor addressed the hopes and concerns of the Democratic-led confirmation committee with relative ease.
€I want to make one special note of thanks to my mother. I am here as many of you have noted because of her aspirations and sacrifices for both my brother Juan, and me. I am very grateful to the President and humble to be here today as a nominee to the United States Supreme Court,€ Sotomayor said in her opening statement.

Slated to become the nation€s first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice, Sotomayor, 55, was allowed the opportunity to also address her judicial record before the panel€s 12 Democrats and seven Republicans.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) opened the proceedings by congratulating Sotomayor on a judicial record and reputation that solidified her integrity as a magistrate.

€In truth, we do not have to speculate about what kind of a justice she will be because we have seen the kind of judge she has been,€ Leahy said. €She is a judge in which all Americans can have confidence. She has been a judge for all Americans and will be a justice for all Americans.€

Judge Sotomayor visits with her family during a break at her confirmation hearing. Courtesy Photo
Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) also commended Sotomayor on her record and President Obama for her nomination; he added that her nomination was long overdue in the course of race relations in America.

€I compliment the President for nominating an Hispanic woman,€ Specter said. €I think it was wrong for America to wait until 1967 to have an African American justice, Thurgood Marshall, on the court. We also waited too long, until 1981, to have the first woman, Justice Sandra Day O€Connor. I think that as a diverse nation diversity is very, very important.€

Even with an initial affirmative confirmation tone, key Republicans, including Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), made it clear that Sotomayor€s comments about her personal experiences as a Latina woman, rather than the application of the law, would not be overlooked during her examination.

€She has criticized the idea that a woman and a man would reach the same result. She expects them to reach different results. I think that's philosophically incompatible with the American system,€ Sessions said. €I want to be clear, I will not vote for, no senator should vote, for an individual nominated by any President who is not fully committed to fairness and impartiality towards every person who appears before them.€

Sessions referred to a speech Sotomayor delivered in 2001, in which she stated that she €would hope that a wise Latina woman, with the richness of her experiences, would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a White male who hasn€t lived that life.€

The comment was made on the heels of her appeals denial of White New Haven, Conn., firefighters who claimed they were refused job promotions due to racial discrimination. Her decision, along with that of two other judges, was later overturned by a 5-4 vote last month, when a high court agreed with the firefighters.

Sotomayor countered in her statement to the panel that many senators had questioned her allegiance to the law when tasked with making decisions that involve race.

€In the past month, many senators have asked me about my judicial philosophy. It is simple: fidelity to the law,€ Sotomayor said. €The task of a judge is not to make the law €" it is to apply the law€in each case I have heard, I have applied the law to the facts at hand.€

Still, with Hispanic Americans being the fastest growing population in the nation, even committee members publicly opposed to Sotomayor€s judicial record have started to wave the banner of impartiality to stave off offending Hispanic American constituents.

Majority Witnesses included Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, Patricia Hynes, president of the New York City Bar Association, and Ramona Romero, National President of the Hispanic National Bar Association; as well as Minority Witnesses, Ilya Somin, professor at George Mason University School of Law, Lieutenant Ben Vargas from the New Haven Fire Department, and Sandy Froman, Esq., Former President of the National Rifle Association of America.

Sotomayor, a native New Yorker, has served as a prosecutor, corporate litigator, trial judge and, member of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York. Having spent her formative years living in a Bronx housing project with her mother and brother following the death of her father, Sotomayor€s rise to the highest court in the land has been touted as a great American rags-to-riches tale.

Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor swears in before the Senate Judiciary Committee during her confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill on Mon., July 13. Photo by Khalid Naji-Allah