Sotomayor rejects 'wise Latina' remark

WASHINGTON — Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor was determined Tuesday to put to rest the talk of her as the "wise Latina" who would make better decisions than a white male because of gender or ethnicity.

This was a "rhetorical flourish" that "fell flat," she told Senate Judiciary Committee members, admitting that her words "created a misunderstanding" about her views of law and judging.

"I do not believe that any ethnic, racial or gender group has an advantage in sound judging," she said. While judges are "not robots" and are affected by backgrounds, these personal experiences do not decide cases, she added.

"That can affect what we see or how we feel, but that's not what drives a result. The law is what commands the result," she said. "My record shows that at no point or time have I ever permitted my personal views or sympathies to influence an outcome of a case."

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., pointedly told Sotomayor that if a politician had made that kind of statement, his career would be over, but added: "Having said that, I am not going to judge you by that one statement.

Here are some other notable developments from Tuesday's hearing:

Judicial temperament: Graham, citing anonymous comments in the Almanac of the Federal Judiciary, said lawyers had called Sotomayor "a terror on the bench" and said she is "temperamental and excitable," abuses lawyers and makes inappropriate outbursts.

Sotomayor said she tends to "ask some questions at oral argument."

"It means they're peppered with questions," she said, explaining that some lawyers find unpredictable and contentious questioning "difficult and challenging."

Reverse discrimination: Sotomayor said the ruling she joined against white firefighters' claim of reverse discrimination by the New Haven, Conn., government was about an examination for firefighter promotions, "not about quotas, not about affirmative action." She said the judges based their ruling on precedent.

Property rights: Sotomayor sidestepped a question about whether the high court had overstepped its authority when it ruled in 2005 that governments may seize property for private development projects.

She did say she respected the "right of property owners to have their day in court."

Abortion, and contraception: Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., asked: "As you know, judge, the landmark case of Griswold vs. Connecticut guarantees that there is a fundamental constitutional right to privacy as it applies to contraception. Do you agree with that? In your opinion, is that settled law?"

Sotomayor answered: "That is the precedent of the court, so it is settled law."

Kohl also asked: "In your opinion, is Roe (vs. Wade) settled law?"

Sotomayor: "The court's decision in Planned Parenthood vs. Casey reaffirmed the court holding of Roe. That is the precedent of the court and settled, in terms of the holding of the court."

2000 election ruling: While not offering an opinion on the Supreme Court ruling that decided the 2000 presidential election, she said "some good" came out of it.

Sotomayor says the battle over the disputed Florida ballots, and the flaws that were exposed, brought "enormous" changes to the electoral process.

She called it a "tribute to the greatness" of the American system of government.

Gun rights: Sotomayor, 55, said she would not take any "preconceived notions" about gun rights.

She said that as a member of the high court, she would feel constrained by precedent. The high court this year reaffirmed the right of people to own a gun for self-defense.

Sotomayor rejects 'wise Latina' remark 07/15/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 15, 2009 12:20am]

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