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US senate grills judicial nominee
Sonia Sotomayor, Obama's choice for supreme court judge, faces confirmation hearing.
Last Modified: 13 Jul 2009 20:06 GMT

If confirmed, Sotomayor will be the first Hispanic judge on the US supreme court [EPA]

Sonia Sotomayor, the US judge nominated by President Barack Obama to be the country's first Hispanic supreme court judge, is facing a senate confirmation hearing.

The senate judiciary committee convened on Monday at 10am (14:00 GMT), with politicians and 31 invited witnesses expected to speak on whether Sotomayor should be granted the lifetime appointment.

Patrick Leahy, a Democrat and the chairman of the committee, urged the panel to focus solely on Sotomayor's career record as the first day of the four-day hearing got under way.

"Let no-one demean this extraordinary woman, her success," and her acheivements, he said.

"She understands that there is not one law for one race or another. There is not one law for one colour or another. There is not one law for rich and a different one for poor. There is only one law."

Republican scepticism

If confirmed, the 55-year-old appeals court judge would replace retiring Justice David Souter on the nine-member court, which is the final arbiter of the US constitution.

But Jeff Sessions, the leading Republican senator on the committee, said that Sotomayor still had to convince him that she would be impartial in her interpretation of the law.

"The strategy is to be as thorough as we can in examining her record, what she has said, and to conduct the hearings in a fair, impartial, and thorough way"

Jon Kyl, Republican senator

"Down the other path lies a brave new world, where words have no true meaning, and judges are free to decide what facts they choose to see," he said.

"In this world, a judge is free to push his or her own political or social agenda."

Sotomayor is due to address the committee later on Monday, and will only face questions from the panel on Tuesday.

Louis Freeh, a former FBI director who mentored Sotomayor, and Linda Chavez, a conservative activist, will also address the committee over the course of the hearing.

Rosalind Jordan, Al Jazeera's US correspondent, said that panel Republicans who are sceptical of Sotomayor's record will have to move carefully, given that she is vying to become the supreme court's first latina judge.

"Congressional elections are about 18 months away and the Republican party, which has been leading much of the criticism about Sotomayor, are facing a lot of difficulties with Latino residents in the United States," she said.

"They took a real beating for fighting immigration reform during the last presidency and they are very concerned that they might lose more congressional seats if they go after Sotomayor in any substantial way."

Experts say the Democrats have the 60 senate votes needed to prevent any Republican effort to use delaying tactics to block Sotomayor's nomination.

'Equal justice'

Republicans have given one of their 14 witness slots to one of the white firefighters whose claim of racial discrimination in an job application Sotomayor rejected.

The supreme court reversed her ruling in late June.

Senator Jon Kyl, reported to be leading the Republican strategy for the confirmation hearings, told the ABC news channel that Sotomayor would get a fair hearing.

"The strategy is to be as thorough as we can in examining her record, what she has said and to conduct the hearings in a fair, impartial and thorough way - and then make our decisions."

Sotomayor's rise from a poor childhood in the Bronx in New York to the height of US justice mirrors Obama's own ascent to power.

Upon announcing her nomination, Obama declared that Sotomayor could boast a "brilliant legal career" and "the wisdom accumulated from an inspiring life's journey".

If appointed, Sotomayor, would be the second woman currently on the court, alongside Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Source:
Agencies
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