Sonia Sotomayor is relying on her 17-year record as a federal judge to rebut criticism that she is concealing a liberal agenda that will show up if she is confirmed to the Supreme Court.
Sotomayor, the first Hispanic high court nominee, was set to return Wednesday to a cavernous Senate hearing room for another grueling day of questioning.
Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee are using Sotomayor's confirmation hearing to raise doubts about her fairness, while Democrats are portraying the 55-year-old New Yorker as a model jurist.
Under questioning Tuesday, Sotomayor tried to take away one line of Republican attack when she distanced herself from the man who nominated her, President Barack Obama.
Asked whether she shared Obama's view — stated when he was a senator — that in some cases, the key determinant is "what is in the judge's heart," Sotomayor said she does not.
"I wouldn't approach the issue of judging in the way the president does," she said. "Judges can't rely on what's in their heart. They don't determine the law. Congress makes the laws. The job of a judge is to apply the law."
Time and again, she put her record on display to answer charges of bias.
Sotomayor backed away from perhaps the most damaging words that had been brought up since Obama nominated her seven weeks ago — a comment she made on several occasions 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.
Republicans were not satisfied with her answers.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said he could end up voting for Sotomayor but wants to make sure she is the judge with what he called a moderately liberal record, not a liberal activist.
"That's what we're trying to figure out — who are we getting here?" he said.
Democrats clearly enjoyed being on the other side of the confirmation process, defending a Democratic nominee.
"When we asked questions of the white male nominees of a Republican president, we were basically trying to ... make sure that they would go far enough in understanding the plight of minorities, because clearly that was not in their DNA," Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said.
"The questions being asked of you from the other side primarily are along the lines of, will you go too far in siding with minorities?" Durbin said.
Republicans focused on one case to make that point, the appeals court ruling that she joined dismissing the claim of white firefighters in New Haven, Conn., who alleged racial discrimination over the city's decision to scrap a promotions exam after too few minorities did well.
The Supreme Court reversed the ruling late last month.
Sotomayor's response was simple and oft-repeated: "We were following precedent."
When the committee finishes its first round of questioning, it will go into the customary closed session to discuss the FBI report on Sotomayor and other personal matters.
The 19 senators can then take up to an additional 20 minutes each to question Sotomayor, although Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the committee chairman, advised his colleagues Tuesday that they don't need to use their entire allotment.
Leahy has voiced confidence that Sotomayor will be confirmed, and with some Republican support.
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