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US Congress grills Obama's Supreme Court cont -

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US Congress grills Obama's Supreme Court contender

Meredith Griffiths reported this story on Tuesday, July 14, 2009 12:30:00

PETER CAVE: In the United States, the battle lines are being drawn up as the Senate prepares to vet
President Barak Obama's appointment of a new judge to the Supreme Court.

If confirmed, Sonia Sotomayor would only be the third woman - and the first Hispanic - to sit on
the bench of the highest court, where Americans decide on their Constitutional rights.

But some Republicans have questioned whether those personal attributes will sway her judgement.

Meredith Griffiths prepared this report.

SENATOR: Do you swear the testimony you are about to give before the committee to be the truth, the
whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God.

SONIA SOTOMAYOR: I do.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: For about three hours Justice Sonia Sotomayor sat before a panel of Senators
who were weighing up her skills and achievements

SENATOR 2: She is a judge which all Americans can have confidence.

SENATOR 3: Judge Sotomayor clearly rejected the notion that judges should strive for an impartial
brand of justice.

SENATOR 4: If confirmed, you will join the Supreme Court with more federal judicial experience than
any justice in the past 100 years.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: The Committee's Democrat chairman Patrick Leahy depicted Sonia Sotomayor a
judicial pioneer - because if she makes it to the bench she'll be the first Hispanic-American
there, and only the third woman

When it was time for her to address the senators, the 55-year-old emphasised her personal story

SONIA SOTOMAYOR: The progression of my life has been uniquely American. My parents left Puerto Rico
during World War II. I grew up in modest circumstances in a Bronx housing project. My father, a
factory worker with a third grade education, passed away when I was nine years old.

On her own, my mother raised my brother and me. She taught us that the key to success in America is
a good education and she set the example, studying alongside my brother and me at our kitchen table
so that she could become a registered nurse.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: But it's her personal attributes that are worrying some of the Republican
senators on the approval committee.

They repeatedly mentioned comments she made in 2001 that a "wise Latina" might arrive at a better
legal decision than a white man.

They questioned her decision scrap firefighter exam results which didn't produce enough qualified
minority candidates.

And the committee's lead Republican Jeff Sessions also took a shot a President Barack Obama for
saying he wanted a person of empathy on the court

JEFF SESSIONS: I will not vote for and no Senator should vote for an individual nominated by any
President who believes it is acceptable for a judge to allow their personal background, gender,
prejudices or sympathies to sway their decision in favour of or against parties before the court.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: Later though, Sonia Sotomayor said while her personal and professional
experiences help her to understand cases, she insisted that the law always commands the result.

SONIA SOTOMAYOR: In each case I have heard, I have applied the law to the facts at hand. 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
explaining why a contrary position, sympathetic or not, is accepted or rejected.

That is how I see to strengthen both the rule of law and faith in the impartiality of the judicial
system.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: The US Supreme Court is ideologically divided with five conservative judges and
four liberals and it is the site where Americans battle over their constitutional rights.

The hearing was interrupted four times by shouting protesters, but it's unclear what Justice
Sotomayor's stance is on the controversial issues of abortion and gun control.

However, she used her opening remarks to try to defuse any suggestions of judicial activism

SONIA SOTOMAYOR: In the past month, many Senators have asked me about my judicial philosophy.
Simple: fidelity to the law. The task of a judge is not to make law, it is to apply the law

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: Even if Judge Sotomayor is confirmed as expected, she won't change the balance
of the court as she's replacing a member of the liberal faction. The Senate hearing could last all
week.

PETER CAVE: Meredith Griffiths reporting.