Sotomayor Hearings (VIDEO, UPDATES): Day 4

Judge Sonia Sotomayor appeared Thursday before the Senate Judiciary Committee for the fourth day of her Supreme Court confirmation hearings. Our full liveblog of the day's events is below.

* * * *

Sotomayor on her way; GOP pledges quick court vote. Sonia Sotomayor sped toward confirmation as the nation's first Hispanic justice Thursday, encouraged by Republican promises of a quick vote and cheered on by a Democratic senator's challenge to take on the Supreme Court's conservative wing when she arrives.

"Battle out the ideas that you believe in, because I have a strong hunch that they are closer to the ones that I would like to see adopted by the court," Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, a Republican turned Democrat, told Sotomayor.

Even two of her Republican critics called the 55-year-old appeals court judge's rulings "mainstream" - noteworthy concessions for President Barack Obama's first high court nominee.

If confirmed, Sotomayor would become the first justice appointed by a Democratic president in 15 years, and the hearings were as much a prelude for future Supreme Court fights as a battle over the judge herself. Republicans repeatedly criticized Obama's past assertion that he wanted a justice with "the quality of empathy," and Sotomayor disavowed Obama's statement as a senator that some decisions would be determined by "what is in a judge's heart."

Republicans, expressing concern that she would bring bias to the court, gave Frank Ricci, a white New Haven, Conn., firefighter whose reverse discrimination claim was rejected by Sotomayor and two other appeals court judges, a speaking role at the hearing. He complained that the ruling showed a belief "that citizens should be reduced to racial statistics," but declined when given the chance to say Sotomayor's nomination should be rejected.

Her panel's ruling was overturned last month by the Supreme Court she hopes to join.

As Sotomayor concluded three grueling days of nationally televised question-and-answer rounds in the Judiciary Committee's witness chair, the panel's senior Republican, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, said, "I look forward to you getting that vote before we recess" on Aug. 7.

Sessions, who declared he still had "serious concerns" about Sotomayor, said he wouldn't support any attempt to block a final vote on confirmation and didn't foresee any other Republican doing so. A committee vote on confirming her is expected late this month.

Four days of confirmation hearings concluded just before nightfall Thursday after an afternoon of testimony from 28 witnesses, including Sotomayor's mentors and supporters as well as critics who voiced concerns about how she'd rule on matters involving abortion, gun and property rights.

Her elevation all but assured, Sotomayor took few risks during her own testimony, repeatedly sidestepping questions on hot-button issues like guns and abortion rights and defending speeches that have been faulted as showing bias.

Sotomayor has overwhelming if not unanimous support among the Senate's 58 Democrats and two independents - and is likely to win a number of votes among the 40 Republicans as well.

Her confirmation hearings were fraught with racial politics that created a dilemma for Republicans, who stepped carefully during their tough questioning of Sotomayor - eager to please their conservative base but wary of alienating Hispanics, the fastest-growing voting demographic.

They pressed Sotomayor repeatedly on her 2001 statement that she hoped a "wise Latina" would usually rule better than a white male, drawing expressions of regret from the nominee, who said the words had been taken out of context and misunderstood.

In four days of testimony - she gave a brief opening statement on Monday - Sotomayor presented herself as a staunch and impartial defender of the law. She rarely strayed from a script replete with pledges to put her feelings and prejudices aside when she rules.

"I regret that I have offended some people," Sotomayor said Thursday, confronted by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., about comments he said "bug the hell out of me."

Sotomayor appeared to have reassured at least some Republicans. Graham described her judicial record as "generally in the mainstream" and said he thought she would keep an open mind on gun rights. Graham, who has said previously he might vote to confirm Sotomayor, said she was "not an activist."

Another Republican, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, also called Sotomayor's rulings "pretty much in the mainstream," although he said her assertions of impartiality at the hearings were strikingly at odds with her past remarks.

Nearby in the Capitol, Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., announced he would oppose Sotomayor, saying she was "unsuitable" for the court.

The National Rifle Association announced it would oppose Sotomayor, saying she held a "hostile view" of the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms, although a spokesman declined to say whether the group would include her confirmation vote in its ratings of lawmakers. The NRA's closely watched "scores" weigh heavily on lawmakers in both parties, since they're a powerful motivator for politically active gun rights supporters.

Committee chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said he expected Sotomayor would win some Republican votes.

Indeed, a number of current GOP senators voted for her when she was confirmed to New York's 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in 1998. Among them are Robert Bennett of Utah, Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Susan Collins of Maine, Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, Orrin Hatch of Utah, Richard Lugar of Indiana and Olympia Snowe of Maine.

On her last day of questioning, senators addressed Sotomayor as though they were giving their takeaway messages to a future justice.

Prodded by Specter to weigh in on televising Supreme Court proceedings - a cause he has long championed - Sotomayor suggested she might be an ally on the issue.

"My experience has generally been positive," she said, noting that cameras had been allowed in her courtroom as part of a pilot program.

Asked if she would encourage the other justices to allow cameras into the high court, she said, "I would certainly relay my experiences."

Justice David Souter has long opposed televising the court's sessions, but his retirement opened the way for her appointment, and possibly a change in the no-camera rule.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., pried from Sotomayor one of the only direct, one-word answers she gave all week, when he asked if she thought the court's combined rulings on abortion had ended a national controversy that has persisted since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973.

"No," Sotomayor said after a brief pause.

Democrats devoted some of their question time to allowing Sotomayor to make her closing arguments to the panel that will cast the first votes on her confirmation.

Asked by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., what historians would make of her, Sotomayor said, "I can't live my life to write history's story." Then she added, "I hope it will say I'm a fair judge, I was a caring person and that I lived my life serving my country."

"Short white guys": Sen. Graham: Republicans also pick people to let the country know they don't appoint exclusively "short white guys."

Watch this moment and other gems from Graham's questioning:

"You might want to rephrase that": Sen. Sessions to Sen. Leahy: "We're gonna do that crack cocaine thing you and I were talking about...."

Senator Jeff Sessions simultaneously shocked and cracked up the Sotomayor hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday afternoon when he said he was looking forward to doing "that crack cocaine thing" with Senator Patrick Leahy and Wade Henderson, the president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.

Sessions, in a casual tone, said "Mr. Henderson, It's good to work with you. Senator Leahy and I are talking during these hearings, we're going to do that crack cocaine thing that you and I have talked about before."

After an awkward pause, Henderson laughed to himself and said, "Thank you, Senator, I appreciate that."

While the Senate gallery laughed, and witnesses including NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former FBI director Louis Freeh snickered, Sessions sputtered, "Let me correct the record."

Sessions explained: "I misspoke. We're going to reduce the burden of penalties in some of the crack cocaine cases and make them fair."

Firefighter denounces Sotomayor ruling: A Connecticut firefighter who lost an appeals court ruling by Sonia Sotomayor has told a Senate panel considering her Supreme Court nomination that in his line of work, advancement has to be determined by skill and qualifications.

Frank Ricci was among a group of white New Haven firefighters who were denied a promotion when city tossed out the results of an exam because not enough minorities had scored well enough to be promoted.

Sotomayor and other members of an appeals court ruled in favor of the city. The U.S. Supreme Court recently overturned that ruling.

He says Americans have the right to have cases decided based on the Constitution and laws, and not what he called "politics and personal feelings."

Sotomayor has said she decided the case based on precedent.

Sotomayor testimony completed, on to the witnesses: Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor has completed three days of answering questions before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The panel's top Republican, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, said he expects a Senate floor vote to come before the August recess. Approval would make Sotomayor the first Hispanic justice on the high court.

Sotomayor won praise from Democrats and Republicans. But some Republicans voiced concern about some of her speeches and writings on the role of a judge and the impact her own background might have on her rulings. Republican Tom Coburn of Oklahoma said he's "deeply troubled" by some of those words.

Chairman Patrick Leahy told Sotomayor she had answered questions with "intelligence, grace and patience." And Sotomayor told the committee she's received a "gracious and fair" hearing.

The panel now hears from a series of outside witnesses, including a Connecticut firefighter who was at the center of a controversial ruling in which Sotomayor took part as a federal appeals judge.

Too true: Sen. Coburn to Sotomayor: "I doubt I could ever get to this stage in a confirmation process."

Sen. Lindsey Graham: some detainees "deserve to be in jail until they die": A Republican senator is appealing to Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor to recognize the nature of the enemy as the country considers how to prosecute detainees from the war on terror.

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told Sotomayor that some of the detainees, if released, will "try to kill us all." He said some of them "deserve to be in jail until they die."

Graham says he hopes a "rational system of justice" for the detainees emerges. But he said the focus needs to be not just on the nation's values, but also on the unprecedented threat it faces.

He concluded by telling Sotomayor that members of the House and Senate can't be commander in chief, and that "unelected judges can't run the war."

Lighting rounds: When Sonia Sotomayor finishes answering questions, the pace of the hearing will increase tremendously.

The public witnesses who are scheduled to speak will for the most part come in, give a quick speech and then leave. Many of the senators don't even hang around for the public witness part of confirmation hearings. You may have a couple senators ask questions of the witnesses, but those will go by quickly.

The only exception to this will be the New Haven, Conn., firefighters Frank Ricci and Ben Vargas. Senators will come back to hear from these two men, considering Republicans have used the New Haven firefighter case to criticize Sotomayor. Look for GOP senators to also criticize liberal groups that have been digging in Ricci's past to find something to use against him, since he is expected to criticize Sotomayor's decision in his lawsuit.

Sessions: I won't back a filibuster: "I will not support and I do not believe anyone on this side will support a filibuster against your nomination," he tells Sotomayor.

Franken asks: "Why do you want to be a Supreme Court Justice?" Sotomayor responded with a funny anecdote about all the disadvantages of public service that segued into a moving testimonial to her passion for the law.


Sotomayor signals support for cameras in the court. Specter raised the question of televising the Supreme Court, a cause he has championed for years.

Sotomayor said cameras were allowed in her federal appeals courtroom as part of a pilot study and "my experience has generally been positive."

Asked if she would encourage the other justices to allow cameras into the high court, she said:

"I would certainly relay my experiences. To the extent some of them may not know about the pilot study in many courts, I would share that with them, although I do suspect they do know, and will participate in discussions with them on this issue. And those things I would do, Senator."

Justice David Souter has long opposed televising the court's sessions, but his retirement opened the way for her appointment, and possibly a change in the no-camera rule.

Specter to Sotomayor: confirmation seems certain: Sen. Arlen Specter has told Judge Sonia Sotomayor he thinks it's pretty certain she'll be confirmed for a seat on the Supreme Court.

Just before a late-morning break in the fourth day of hearings, the Pennsylvania Democrat told Sotomayor: "Conventional wisdom is very strong for your confirmation."

Specter, who switched parties earlier this year, once was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. His observation at the end of a period of questioning Thursday seemed to be in keeping with statements that South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham made earlier this week, when he told the 55-year-old judge he thought she was sure to be approved, barring a meltdown at the hearings.

Sotomayor defies Coburn on gun rights question: "I don't know that that's a justice I can be": Sotomayor bluntly told a Republican senator there was no way she would say in the setting of a congressional hearing just how she'd rule on an important constitutional question.

Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma pressed Sotomayor for the second day in a row to say under what circumstances she might accept -- or rule -- that there is a "fundamental" right to bear arms, as opposed to an "individual," or less pervasive, right.

As she had earlier, Sotomayor declined to answer the question directly. Instead, she asked Coburn if he would want a justice to agree with him without hearing arguments or listening to the parties to a case. Sotomayor said, "I don't know that that's a justice that I can be."

Graham admits he would have lacked courage to push for school de-segregation

Another interesting moment from the fourth day of Sotomayor's confirmation hearings came when Sen. Lindsey Graham was drawing the distinction between how courts create precedent and when they make law.

The South Carolina Republican used the case study of Brown v. Board of Education to illuminate how the Supreme Court, through a studious interpretation of the constitution can actually affect political change. In the process, he dropped in the candid admission that if he were the Senator in 1955, he likely would not have had the courage to push for legislation calling for de-segregation in schools.

Here is the quote:

"The court has, in the opinion of many of us, gone into the business of societal change not based on the plain language of the constitution, but based on motivations that can never be checked at the ballot box. Brown versus Board of Education is instructive in the sense that the Court pushed the country to do something politicians were not brave enough to do. Certainly we're not brave enough in my state. And if I had been elected as a Senator from South Carolina in 1955, the year I was born, I would be amazed if I would have had the courage of a Judge Johnson in the political arena. But the court went through an analysis that separate was not equal. It had a basis in the constitution after fact finding to reach a reasoned conclusion in the law and the courage to implement that decision. And society had the wisdom to accept the court's opinion even though it was contentious and literally people died."

(Hat Tip: Media Matters) --Sam Stein

Graham To Sotomayor: your statements "bug the hell out of me":

Questioning Judge Sonia Sotomayor for the second time, Sen. Lindsey Graham, (R-S.C.), told the Supreme Court nominee that, in the past, she has "said some things that just bug the hell out of me."

But the South Carolina Republican left the impression that he would end up supporting Sotomayor's nomination, declaring, at one point, that she had proven that she could separate her history as an activist and a judge.

"Here's what I will say about you," Graham said. "I don't know how you're going to come out on [a Second Amendment case]. Because I think fundamentally, Judge, you're able, after all these years of being a judge, to embrace a right that you may not want for yourself, to allow others to do things that are not comfortable to you but for the group, they're necessary. That is my hope for you. That's what makes you to me more acceptable as a judge and not an activist because an activist would be a judge who would be chomping at the bit to use this wonderful opportunity to change America through the Supreme Court by taking their view of life and imposing it on the rest of us. I think and believe, based on what I know about you so far, that you're broad-minded enough to understand that America is bigger than the Bronx, it is bigger than South Carolina."

The questioning from Graham contained the type of lecturer's tone that Sotomayor's defenders found so objectionable when the two squared off on Tuesday. As then, the Senator peppered Obama's choice for the court with a series of questions focusing on her past work for the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund, her definition of identity politics, and her infamous "wise Latina" remark. On the latter point, Graham ended his portion of the question and answer session with a dramatic flare.

"As Senator [Diane] Feinstein said, you have come a long way. You have worked very hard, you have earned the respect of Ken Starr ... and you have said some things that just bug the hell out of me," Graham declared. Switching to some of her more controversial statements, he asked: "To those who may be bothered by that, what do you say?"

"I regret that I have offended some people," Sotomayor responded. "I believe that my life demonstrates that that was not my intent to leave the impression that some have taken from my words."

The court nominee was about to elaborate on her point, only to be abruptly interrupted.

"You know what Judge," Graham declared. "I agree with you, good luck."

And with that, the South Carolinian had used up his time. --Sam Stein

Firefighters already dominating: Republicans didn't waste a moment today trying to focus on Sonia Sotomayor's views on affirmative action -- and her habit of dodging questions.

It's Day 4 of her confirmation hearing, a day likely to be remembered for the upcoming testimony of New Haven firefighter Frank Ricci. He was on the winning side of a Supreme Court race-discrimination ruling that overturned an appellate court decision in which Sotomayor participated.

Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., opened the questioning today by pressing Sotomayor on her claim that she was bound by precedent in ruling against the white firefighters. Sotomayor, who has danced around the question all week, started to review the facts of the case when Kyl interjected. "The question I asked was very simple," he said, apologizing for the interruption and reminding her of the question: What was the precedent by which she was bound?"

A few minutes later, he stopped her again: "Let me interrupt again, because you're not getting to the point of my question," Kyl said, adding that Sotomayor would never let a lawyer get away with indirect answers in her courtroom. He said Sotomayor would admonish an elusive lawyer by saying, "That's all fine and dandy, counsel, but you're not answering my question."

And on it went.

Sen. Kyl decries heat in room at confirmation hearing: As interrogation of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor resumed, housekeeping items were front and center.

Republican Sen. John Kyl (KILE) of Arizona told the judge he was sorry about how hot it was in the room the day before, beyond the tough questions she was getting.

Kyl told the 55-year-old native New Yorker he didn't think there couldn't be any question about her stamina. Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy chimed in: "Where the press are, it's like an icebox up there."

Leahy also noted a breakdown of microphones Wednesday, but quickly turned the hearing over to Kyl as Sotomayor began answering lawmakers' questions.

One more day of questioning: Barring a monumental mistake, Sonia Sotomayor has to endure only a few more hours in the witness chair before she can look ahead to her eventual confirmation as a Supreme Court justice.

Sotomayor returns for a third and final day of questioning Thursday, having avoided saying much on a range of hot-button issues, including guns and abortion.

Her unwillingness to be pinned down on almost any topic frustrated even some friendly Democrats.

"I think your record is exemplary, Judge Sotomayor, exemplary," said Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., who quit the Republican Party earlier this year. "I'm not commenting about your answers, but your record is exemplary."

Sotomayor, 55, has been a federal judge for 17 years, the last 11 on the appeals court in New York. President Barack Obama nominated her to take the seat of Justice David Souter, who retired last month.

A vote by the full Senate to confirm her is expected in early August, time enough to allow her to take the judicial oath and participate in a scheduled hearing Sept. 9 on a case involving federal campaign finance law.

Despite her years of service, Republicans continued to focus more on Sotomayor's writings and speeches. They said they were still worried Sotomayor would bring bias and a political agenda to the bench.

"It's muddled, confusing, backtracking on issue after issue," complained Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the top Republican on the Judiciary panel. "I frankly am a bit disappointed in the lack of clarity and consistency in her answers."

But Republicans conceded that Sotomayor had not committed a major mistake that would be necessary to derail her nomination to be the first Hispanic and third woman to serve on the high court.

Once she finishes testifying, Republicans plan to call New Haven, Conn., firefighter Frank Ricci, who passed a promotion exam only to see the city toss out the results because too few minorities qualified for promotion.

His ensuing discrimination complaint gives the GOP another chance to portray Sotomayor as a judge who allows her bias to dictate the outcome of a case.

Ricci, in attendance Wednesday, had his reverse discrimination claim rejected by Sotomayor and two other appeals court judges. The Supreme Court overturned that ruling late last month.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Ricci "deserves his chance to tell the American people about how he felt about being denied his promotion, and why he filed suit and what he did to make himself a better candidate for the test."

Sotomayor has said repeatedly that her panel was bound by precedent, an assertion that was challenged in an opinion by fellow Judge Jose Cabranes, her one-time mentor.

In 10 hours of questioning over two days, Sotomayor has warded off frequent attempts to get her to weigh in on any major issue that could come before her as a justice.

In one lengthy exchange with Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., a prominent abortion opponent, Sotomayor firmly declined to give her opinion in a hypothetical case involving a woman who learns her 38-week-old fetus has spina bifida, a potentially serious birth defect.

All she would do is relate the state of abortion law as defined by the Supreme Court.

In 1992, the court "reaffirmed the core holding of Roe v. Wade that a woman has a constitutional right to terminate her pregnancy in certain cases," she said, adding that the ruling said the court should consider whether any state regulation "has an undue burden on the woman's constitutional right."

Echoing comments she made on other topics throughout the day, Sotomayor said, "All I can say to you is what the court's done and the standard that the court has applied. We don't make policy choices on the court; we look at the case before us."

The witness list:

American Bar Association Witnesses

Kim Askew, Chair of the Standing Committee
Mary Boies, Primary Reviewer

Majority Witnesses

Michael Bloomberg, Mayor, City of New York
Chuck Canterbury, National President, Fraternal Order of Police
David Cone, former Major League Baseball pitcher
JoAnne A. Epps, Dean, Temple University Beasley School of Law, on behalf of the National Association of Women Lawyers
Louis Freeh, former Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation
Michael J. Garcia, former U.S. Attorney, Southern District of New York
Wade Henderson, President and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights
Patricia Hynes, President, New York City Bar Association
Dustin McDaniel, Attorney General, State of Arkansas
Robert Morgenthau, District Attorney, New York County, New York
Ramona Romero, National President, Hispanic National Bar Association
Congressman Jose E. Serrano, New York Sixteenth District
Theodore M. Shaw, Professor, Columbia Law School
Kate Stith, Lafayette S. Foster Professor of Law, Yale Law School
Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, Chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus

Minority Witnesses

Linda Chavez, President, Center for Equal Opportunity
Sandy Froman, Esq., former President, National Rifle Association of America
Dr. Stephen Halbrook, Attorney
Tim Jefires, Founder, P7 Enterprises
Peter Kirsanow, Commissioner, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
David Kopel, Esq., Independence Institute
John McGinnis, Professor, Northwestern University School of Law
Neomi Rao, Professor, George Mason University School of Law
Frank Ricci, Director of Fire Services, ConnectiCOSH (Connecticut Council on Occupational Saftey and Health)
David Rivkin, Esq., Partner, Baker Hostetler
Nicholas Quinn Rosenkranz, Professor, Georgetown University School of Law
Ilya Somin, Professor, George Mason University School of Law
Lieutenant Ben Vargas, New Haven Fire Department
Dr. Charmaine Yoest, Americans United for Life

Read updates and watch video: from the first day of the hearing here, from the second day here and third day here.