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During a high-profile national security case heard by the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in December, Judge Sotomayor gave the attorney for a Canadian man who had been detained by U.S. forces little room to work.

Judge Sotomayor interrupted the lawyer, David Cole, numerous times about whether there was standing for a U.S. court to hear the case, before eventually explaining her aggressive questioning.

“That’s why I’m trying to figure out and untie your arguments a bit,” Judge Sotomayor told Mr. Cole.

Legal scholar Jeffrey Rosen documented concerns from 2nd Circuit law clerks and New York prosecutors in a piece he wrote for the New Republic earlier this month. In the piece, he quoted anonymous members of the New York legal community who described Judge Sotomayor as an intellectual lightweight and “kind of a bully on the bench.”

On the White House-organized call, Judge Sotomayor’s colleagues praised her careful reading of laws and characterized her as a judge bent on restraint and narrow readings of statutes.

Lawyers on the call couched her aggressive questioning as a product of a “hot bench” and poring over details meticulously.

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Judge Sotomayor’s judicial temperament was raised during her 1997 confirmation hearing to the appeals court. Sen. Jeff Sessions, the Alabama Republican who recently became the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told Judge Sotomayor that she was out of bounds when she criticized mandatory minimum sentences from the bench during one sentencing proceeding.

“I do think that a judge, would you not agree, has to be careful in conducting themselves in a way that reflects respect for the law and the system,” Mr. Sessions said.

Judge Sotomayor said she probably should not have used the word “abomination” to describe the guidelines, but that her record showed she didn’t let her personal opinions affect her rulings.

“I do what the law requires, and I think that is the greatest respect I could show for it,” she told Mr. Sessions.

Harvard law professor and Obama mentor Charles Ogletree said lawyers caught off guard by Judge Sotomayor’s demeanor who criticize her are “misconstruing her sense as a well-prepared judge, one who is not on a fishing expedition.”

Conservative activists have decided on attacking Judge Sotomayor as a judicial activist who would work outside the rule of law. The Judicial Confirmation Network, which is leading a coalition of conservative groups, is airing an ad featuring Judge Sotomayor talking about whether judges set policy from the bench.