Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor ducked and deflected Republican attempts to pin her down Wednesday on hot-button social issues, while facing a largely friendly round of questions from Democratic senators during her third full day of confirmation hearings.
GOP senators tried again to press Judge Sotomayor about how she viewed the constitutional right to an abortion, whether gun rights apply to the states and whether judges had the right to set policy - the latter issue raised frequently by liberal and conservative groups.
Judge Sotomayor sidestepped a request from freshman Sen. Al Franken, Minnesota Democrat, to define the term "judicial activism" and said President Obama had not asked her whether she supported abortion before her selection, despite reports that the administration had tried to reassure pro-choice groups about her appointment.
"They keep asking the same questions over and over and over again," Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat said of Republican senators. "And they have a right to do it."
Lawmakers on the Senate panel finally wrapped up their first round of questions Wednesday afternoon and started a second round after reviewing the FBI's background check of the Bronx, N.Y.-born judge in a closed-door session.
Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, opened Wednesday's hearing by again pressing Judge Sotomayor on her now-famous statement in a 2001 speech that a "wise Latina woman" would tend to make better decisions than a "white male who hasn't lived that life."
Judge Sotomayor, who would be the first Hispanic woman to serve on the high court, tried to expand on her previous explanation that the remark was a "failed rhetorical flourish that fell flat." She equated the passage with remarks made by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. about the value of his ethnic background during his 2006 confirmation hearings.
"She seemed to kind of re-embrace those comments today," Mr. Cornyn said. "I think she just made it more muddled."
Judge Sotomayor is still expected to be confirmed by the Senate, where Democrats control 60 seats.
Although Republican lawmakers concede they see little hope of blocking or delaying the nomination, they continued to pepper Judge Sotomayor with tough questions based on her speeches and lower-court rulings that have raised concern among conservative activists.
In a slightly bizarre exchange over when a self-defense claim is applicable in court, Judge Sotomayor talked about hypothetically shooting Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, in the head.
Mr. Coburn jokingly told Judge Sotomayor she would "have some 'splaining to do," a reference to the famous catchphrase used by Desi Arnaz as Cuban-born bandleader Ricky Ricardo on TV's "I Love Lucy."
In a preview of witness testimony to be heard later this week, a group of New Haven, Conn., firefighters involved in one of Judge Sotomayor's most disputed rulings filed into the Senate Hart Office Building hearing room Wednesday morning and sat through much of the proceedings. Frank Ricci, the lead plaintiff in the racial reverse-discrimination case in which the Supreme Court overturned Judge Sotomayor's appeals court ruling, is set to testify this week.
Mr. Ricci has become a prominent figure in his own right in the confirmation hearings as liberal groups have targeted him for suing the New Haven Fire Department in 1995 to get his job and for inflating his resume, according to a letter his current employer sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.
Mr. Franken, the comedian-turned-Minnesota senator, provided one of the day's lighter moments, discussing with Judge Sotomayor their shared fondness for the old TV courtroom drama "Perry Mason."
When Judge Sotomayor told Mr. Franken she didn't remember the one show in which Mr. Mason lost a case, Mr. Franken asked, "Didn't the White House prepare you for that?"
Even the pop-culture reference provided a partisan talking point.
A White House aide quickly e-mailed reporters that the episode in question was "The Case of the Deadly Verdict," which aired in 1963, Republican researchers countered that the Obama administration overlooked "The Case of the Terrified Typist," in which the famed fictional defense attorney also lost.