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Sotomayor highlights 'fidelity to the law' in confirmation hearing

[JURIST] US Supreme Court [official website] nominee Sonia Sotomayor [WH profile; JURIST news archive] on Monday told the Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] during confirmation hearings [materials; video] that she would bring to the Court a judicial philosophy rooted in "fidelity to the law." During her opening statement, Sotomayor emphasized the "different perspectives" she gained on the law as a prosecutor, a corporate attorney, and a judge, saying that her experience has allowed her to "witness[] the human consequences of my decisions." Addressing criticism that her speeches and decisions show a record of racial bias and "judicial activism," Sotomayor said that her "decisions have been made not to serve the interests of any one litigant":

The task of a judge is not to make the law – it is to apply the law. And it is clear, I believe, that my record in two courts reflects my rigorous commitment to interpreting the Constitution according to its terms; interpreting statutes according to their terms and Congress’s intent; and hewing faithfully to precedents established by the Supreme Court and my Circuit Court. In each case I have heard, I have applied the law to the facts at hand.

The process of judging is enhanced when the arguments and concerns of the parties to the litigation are understood and acknowledged. That is why I generally structure my opinions by setting out what the law requires and then by explaining why a contrary position, sympathetic or not, is accepted or rejected. That is how I seek to strengthen both the rule of law and faith in the impartiality of our justice system. My personal and professional experiences help me listen and understand, with the law always commanding the result in every case.

Sotomayor's confirmation hearing began Monday, with the Senators on the committee making opening statements [JURIST report] of their own. Committee chairman Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) [official website] said [text] that Sotomayor "is a careful and restrained judge with a deep respect for judicial precedent and for the powers of the other branches of the government, including the law-making role of Congress." Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) [official website] likewise recognized Sotomayor's experience in his own remarks [text], but said that "she appears to believe that her role is not constrained to objectively decide who wins based on the weight of the law, but who, in her opinion, should win."

Last week, the American Bar Association Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary [official website] gave Sotomayor a unanimous "well-qualified" rating [letter, PDF; JURIST report]. In May, Obama praised [JURIST report] Sotomayor's experience and wisdom, rebuking Republicans who would oppose her confirmation. Obama warned against partisanship in the confirmation process, saying that he hoped Congress would "avoid the political posturing and ideological brinksmanship" that marked past confirmation hearings. Obama nominated Sotomayor in May to replace retiring [JURIST reports] Justice David Souter [official profile, PDF; JURIST news archive].

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