Sotomayor Addresses Bias Accusations

Today, Sonia Sotomayor held a series of private meetings with high-ranking Democrats and Republicans, from which some interesting comments are emerging.

Sotomayor, who would be the high court’s first Hispanic and its third woman, told senators she would follow the law as a judge without letting her life experiences inappropriately influence her decisions.

“Ultimately and completely, a judge has to follow the law no matter what their upbringing has been,” Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the Judiciary Committee chairman, quoted the nominee as saying in their closed-door session.

Republicans are questioning how she would apply the law, noting her remark in 2001 that she hoped her decisions as a “wise Latina” would be better than those of a white male who hadn’t had the same experiences. Obama has said she misspoke; some Republicans have called the comment racist.

Leahy, hoping to shepherd a smooth and quick confirmation for Sotomayor, asked her what she meant by her 2001 comment and said the judge told him: “Of course one’s life experience shapes who you are, but … as a judge, you follow the law.”

Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the top Republican on the committee, said Sotomayor used similar words with him as well, but he appeared to come away from the meetings unconvinced about her approach and whether she would be an “activist” who tried to set policy from the bench.

“We talked about the idea and the concept of personal feelings and … how that influences a decision, and how it should not,” Sessions said, declining to elaborate on the private discussion. Sessions, who is to meet Wednesday with Leahy to discuss scheduling Sotomayor’s confirmation proceedings, said he thought hearings should wait until September — more than a month after Obama and Senate Democrats had hoped to have Sotomayor confirmed.

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