WASHINGTON - (AP) - Sonia Sotomayor pushed back vigorously Tuesday against Republican charges that she would bring bias and a liberal agenda to her seat as the first Hispanic woman on the Supreme Court, insisting repeatedly she would be impartial as GOP senators tried to undercut her with her own words from past speeches.
For all the pointed questioning in a grueling, daylong hearing, there was little doubt that President Barack Obama's first high court choice - with solid backing from the Democrats and their lopsided Senate majority - would be confirmed. Sen. Patrick Leahy, Democratic chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said as much - and predicted she would receive at least some Republican backing.
Sotomayor, 55, kept her composure - judge-like, supporters said - during the intense day of questions and answer, listening intently and scribbling notes as senators peppered her with queries, then leaning into her microphone and gesturing for emphasis as she responded. She returns for another full day of questioning on Wednesday.
"My record shows that at no point or time have I ever permitted my personal views or sympathies to influence the outcome of a case," the appeals court judge declared during a tense exchange with Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the top Republican on the committee that is conducting this week's confirmation hearings. He repeatedly questioned her ability to be objective as a Supreme Court justice, citing her own comments.
Sotomayor backed away from perhaps the most damaging words that had been brought up since Obama nominated her seven weeks ago - a 2001 comment suggesting that a "wise Latina" judge would usually reach better conclusions than a white man. She called the remark "a rhetorical flourish that fell flat."
"It was bad because it left an impression that I believed that life experiences commanded a result in a case, but that's clearly not what I do as a judge," Sotomayor said.