- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 14, 2009

UPDATED:

Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor on Tuesday called her widely cited remark that a “wise Latina woman” had better judgment than a “white male” a failed “rhetorical flourish,” supported the privacy rights of abortion and said she was not opposed to gun ownership on the first full day of questioning at her Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings.

In her first extended public exchanges with lawmakers, Judge Sotomayor quickly dispatched a series of hot-button issues under the friendly questioning of committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, addressing at the very outset charges that her comparison of Latina women and white men was a form of racism.

“The context of the words I said have created a misunderstanding,” she said. “I want to state up front unequivocally, I do not believe that any ethnic, racial or gender group has an advantage in sound judgment. I do believe that every person has an equal opportunity to be a good and wise judge.”

She called her words, which she employed in a number of public addresses over the years, a “rhetorical flourish” which “fell flat.”

Judge Sotomayor, nominated by President Obama to replace retiring Justice David Souter, fielded a range of questions on contentious legal issues from gun control and abortion to presidential powers and property rights Tuesday.

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She said she accepted a recent Supreme Court decision that an individual’s right to own guns is guaranteed by the Second Amendment, but sidestepped a controversy that could soon come before the Supreme Court whether the right also limits the right of individual states to impose gun ownership restrictions.

“I understand … how important the right to bear arms is to many, many Americans, and I have friends who hunt. I understand the individual right fully that the Supreme Court recognized,” she said. “I would not prejudge any question that came before me if I was a justice on the Supreme Court,” she added.

The Bronx-born judge also said she felt that personal criticisms of the lead plaintiff in a controversial case involving a group of white New Haven firefighters were “reprehensible” and insisted that her ruling in the case — which was narrowly overturned by the Supreme Court last month — relied on settled law.

Republicans and Democrats focused much of their questioning on the New Haven case. She concurred in an appeals court decision that ruled that the group of mostly white firefighters could not sue when city officials threw out employment test results after virtually no minority candidate qualifed for promotion.

Judge Sotomayor and her supporters argued that her stand in the case was rooted in precedent and that the high court set a new standard when it sided with the firefighters.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, Utah Republican, pressed Judge Sotomayor on her decision to sign on to an abbreviated opinion in the case and also condemned the liberal group People for the American Way, which has begun attacking Mr. Ricci. Pressed by Mr. Hatch about what he called the “smear” campaign against Mr. Ricci, Judge Sotomayor called it “reprehensible.”

Judge Sotomayor largely deflected questions on a number of hot-button topics, saying that she would keep an open mind in every case and that she does not pre-judge cases.

In one of the more nuanced debates of the hearings, Judge Sotomayor and Mr. Hatch debated just what constituted a pair of nunchakus. The martial-arts weapon was at the center of a Second Amendment case Judge Sotomayor decided which angered gun-rights activists.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, pressured Judge Sotomayor on whether she would consider the health of women when deciding abortion cases, if confirmed to the court.

“The health and welfare of the woman must be compelling consideration,” Judge Sotomayor said.


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