Sotomayor pushes back on bias charges

(AP) - Sonia Sotomayor pushed back vigorously Tuesdayagainst Republican charges that she would bring bias and a liberalagenda to her seat as the first Hispanic woman on the SupremeCourt, insisting repeatedly she would be impartial as GOP senatorstried to undercut her with her own words from past speeches.

For all the pointed questioning in a grueling, day-long hearing,there was little doubt that President Barack Obama's first highcourt choice - with solid backing from the Democrats and theirlopsided Senate majority - would be confirmed. Sen. Patrick Leahy,Democratic chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said as much - andpredicted she would receive at least some Republican backing.

Sotomayor kept her composure - judge-like, supporters said -during the intense day of questions and answer, listening intentlyand scribbling notes as senators peppered her with queries, thenleaning into her microphone and gesturing for emphasis as sheresponded. She is expected to return for more questioning onWednesday.

"My record shows that at no point or time have I ever permittedmy personal views or sympathies to influence the outcome of acase," the appeals court judge declared during a tense exchangewith Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the top Republican on thecommittee that is conducting this week's confirmation hearings. Herepeatedly questioned her ability to be objective as a SupremeCourt justice, citing her own comments in speeches.

Sotomayor backed away from perhaps the most damaging words thathad been brought up since Obama nominated her seven weeks ago - a2001 comment suggesting that a "wise Latina" judge would usuallyreach better conclusions than a white man. She called the remark"a rhetorical flourish that fell flat."

"It was bad because it left an impression that I believed thatlife experiences commanded a result in a case, but that's clearlynot what I do as a judge," Sotomayor said.

Republicans sounded unconvinced.

"As a judge who has taken this oath, I am very troubled thatyou would repeatedly over a decade or more make statements" likethe one in 2001, Sessions said.

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