Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Sotomayor Says Personal Views Won’t Affect Judging

July 14, 2009 – 11:08 a.m.
By Seth Stern, CQ Staff

Sonia Sotomayor defended herself Tuesday against Republican charges that she is unable to put aside her personal views on the second day of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s confirmation hearing.

“I do not permit my sympathies, personal views or prejudices to influence the outcome of my cases,” Sotomayor said in response to a question from the panel’s top Republican, Jeff Sessions of Alabama.

Statements Sotomayor made off the bench were the focus of many of Sessions’ questions. Chairman Patrick J. Leahy , D-Vt., first offered Sotomayor the chance to explain statements she made suggesting that a wise woman or Latina might come to a better decision than a white male judge.

“I want to state up front, unequivocally and without doubt that I do not believe that any racial ethnic or gender group has an advantage in sound judgment,” Sotomayor said. “I do believe that every person has an equal opportunity to be a good and wise judge regardless of their background or life experiences.”

Sotomayor explained that in those speeches she was attempting to inspire many of the women in the audience “to believe that their life experiences would enrich the legal system because different life experiences and backgrounds always do.”

“I believe my 17-year record on the two courts would show that in every case I render, I first decide what the law required under the facts before me and what I do is explain to litigants why the law required a result,” Sotomayor said. “Whether their position is sympathetic or not, I explain why the result is commanded by the law.”

But Sotomayor’s explanations did not satisfy Sessions, who made clear he believes her statements are part of a larger “troubling” pattern that calls her impartiality into question.

“It’s a body of thought over a period of years that causes us difficulty,” Sessions said.

Sotomayor told Sessions that while judges strive for impartiality, “life experiences have to influence you. We’re not robots.”

“We have to recognize those feelings and put them aside,” Sotomayor added.

Sessions also asked Sotomayor about a speech at Duke University where she suggested policy is made in the intermediate appellate courts, where she currently serves.

“I wasn’t talking about the policy reflected in the law that Congress makes, that’s the job of Congress to decide what the policy should be for society,” Sotomayor said.

Sotomayor stressed that she was trying to explain that while trial judges apply law to the facts of a given case, the U.S. Courts of Appeals “establish precedent” and “decide what the law says in a particular situation.”

“That precedent has policy ramifications because it binds not just the litigants in that case, but binds all litigants in similar cases and cases that may be influenced by that precedent,” Sotomayor said.

Keith Perine contributed to this story.

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