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Sotomayor deflected Republicans before

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor can expect a confirmation hearing grilling over her perceived biases in rulings and comments she made condoning judicial activism, but she has experience at deflecting senators' pointed questions.

She fended off questions about her qualms with federal mandatory minimum sentences and prisoners' gay and religious rights at a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing in 1998 for her promotion to the U.S. Court of Appeals.

She highlighted in testimony how she followed the letter of the law despite personal misgivings. It is an argument she likely will make again as Senate Republicans scrutinize her ability to remain impartial on the bench.

In 1998, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama - who now is the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee - challenged Judge Sotomayor for comments she made on the bench calling mandatory minimum sentences an "abomination."

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Before sentencing a man to five years in prison in 1993, Judge Sotomayor said: "I hope that yours will be among the many that will convince our new president and Congress to change these minimums. The only statement I can make is this is one more example of an abomination being committed before our sight."

Judge Sotomayor told the panel that it was "a case where the facts and my personal feelings would have imposed a different result, but I did not. I imposed what the law required."

Mr. Sessions scolded the judge for not showing respect for the law and cast his vote against confirming her for the appeals court.

She stood up to questions about whether she thought gays were entitled to special rights in prison. She said she did not.

She also had to explain her ruling in a case that pitted the government's need to maintain security in prison by banning Santeria beads that guards said were gang symbols against the right of inmates to wear them as part of a religious observance.

She ruled that prisoners could wear the beads under their shirts as an alternative to banning the items, though she cited the government's overriding authority to maintain security. "I said to [prison officials], 'If it turns out that they are finding ways to evade that, then, obviously, you can take steps that are different.' "

Judge Sotomayor weathered the panel's scrutiny and was confirmed by the Senate in a 67-29 vote.