Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor faced an easier day of questions as her Senate confirmation hearings resumed Wednesday, but still faced criticism about a controversial remark she made in 2001 and pointed inquiries from Republican lawmakers over how she would rule on divisive issues such as abortion and gun control.
Judge Sotomayor ducked a request from freshman Democrat Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota to define the term “judicial activism” and said President Obama had not asked her whether she supported abortion before he selected her, despite reports that the administration had tried to reassure pro-choice groups about her appointment.
On the third day of the confirmation hearings, lawmakers on the Senate Judiciary Committee 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-born judge in a closed-door session.
Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, opened Wednesday’s hearing by again pressing Judge Sotomayor on her statement in a 2001 speech that a “wise Latina woman” would make better decisions than a “white male.”
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,” equating the passage with remarks that Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. about the value of his ethnic background made during his confirmation hearings.
“She seemed to kind of re-embrace those comments today,” Mr. Cornyn, Texas Republican, said. “I think she just made it more muddled.”
Judge Sotomayor is still widely expected to be confirmed by the Senate, where Democrats control 60 seats.
Although Republican lawmakers have either acknowledged she will likely be confirmed or said they will not filibuster her nomination, they continued to pepper the nominee with tough questions based on speeches she had delivered and lower-court rulings which 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’d “have some ‘splaining to do,” a reference to the famous catch phrase used by Desi Arnaz as Cuban-born bandleader Ricky Ricardo on the old “I Love Lucy” show.
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 Building hearing room Wednesday morning and sat through much of the hearing. 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 Wednesday.