WASHINGTON - (AP) - Sonia Sotomayor sped toward confirmation asthe nation's first Hispanic justice Thursday, encouraged byRepublican promises of a quick vote and cheered on by a Democraticsenator's challenge to take on the Supreme Court's conservativewing when she arrives.
If confirmed, Sotomayor would become the first justice appointedby a Democratic president in 15 years, and the hearings were asmuch a prelude for future Supreme Court fights as a battle over thejudge herself. Republicans repeatedly criticized Obama's pastassertion that he wanted a justice with "the quality of empathy,"and Sotomayor disavowed Obama's statement as a senator that somedecisions would be determined by "what is in a judge's heart."
Republicans, expressing concern that she would bring bias to thecourt, brought in Frank Ricci, a white New Haven, Conn.,firefighter whose reverse discrimination claim was rejected bySotomayor and two other appeals court judges, to testify againsther. He complained that the ruling showed a belief "that citizensshould be reduced to racial statistics," but he didn't say hernomination should be rejected.
As Sotomayor concluded three grueling days of nationallytelevised question-and-answer rounds in the Judiciary Committee'switness chair, the panel's senior Republican, Jeff Sessions ofAlabama, said, "I look forward to you getting that vote before werecess in August."
Her elevation all but assured, Sotomayor took few risks duringher testimony, repeatedly sidestepping questions on hot-buttonissues like guns and abortion rights and defending speeches thathave been faulted as showing bias.
Sotomayor appeared to have reassured at least some Republicans.Graham described her judicial record as "generally in themainstream" and said he thought she would keep an open mind on gunrights. Graham, who has said previously he might vote to confirmSotomayor, said she was "not an activist."
On her last day of questioning, senators addressed Sotomayor asthough they were giving their takeaway messages to a futurejustice.