Supreme Court Nominee Sotomayor a 'Bully on the Bench?'

"I would hope that we've come in America to the place where we can look at a statement that could be misunderstood, and consider it in the context of the person's life," Sotomayor responded.

She had defended the statement at several points during the day, pointing out earlier that the context has "created a misunderstanding" and that she wanted to "state up front, unequivocally and without doubt, I do not believe that any ethnic, racial or gender group has an advantage in sound judging.

"I do believe that every person has an equal opportunity to be a good and wise judge, regardless of their background or life experiences," she continued.

The top Republican on the panel, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, did not agree that her previous statement had been any kind of misunderstanding, noting that she had repeated the same sentiment "about seven times over a number of years' span."

Sotomayor: 'Wise Latina' Statement Left Wrong Impresson

In response, she came close to apologizing for the statement, saying it was "bad because it left an impression that I believe that life experiences commanded a result" in a case.

Sotomayor continued her defense, telling the panel that she has never -- and would never -- let her background influence her decisions.

"The process of judging is the process of keeping an open mind," she told Sessions after he continued to suggest her upbringing would frame her thinking.

"At no time have I permitted my personal views to influence a case," Sotomayor said.

Sessions pressed Sotomayor on whether she could separate her personal feelings from her decisions.

"We are not robots," said Sotomayor. "We have to recognize those feelings and put them aside."

Senators mainly focused today on Sotomayor's judicial philosophy, which she described Monday as "fidelity to the law," but Republicans have expressed concerns about her ability to separate her personal beliefs from the cases she would hear as a Supreme Court justice in light of President Obama's stated goal of seeking a nominee with the "quality of empathy."

GOP senators on the panel have expressed concern over an "empathy standard" of sorts, but Sotomayor and Democrats on the committee have tried to tamp down that worry.

One case that conservatives have cited gained even more prominence last month, after the Supreme Court voted along ideological lines to overturn a ruling that Sotomayor and a panel of appeals judges had handed down.

In that case, Ricci v. DeStefano, a group of white and Hispanic firefighters in New Haven, Conn., sued the city, claiming it had discriminated against them when it threw out promotion tests because black firefighters didn't perform well on them.

The Democratic chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, gave Sotomayor the chance to explain why she ruled against the white and Hispanic firefighters as an appeals judge.

Sotomayor Defends New Haven Firefighters Ruling

Sotomayor defended her actions, saying that she and her fellow judges were obligated to follow precedent and that she did not rule based on the racial issues that underscored the case.

"This was not a quota case; this was not an affirmative action case. This was a challenge to a test that everybody agreed had a very wide difference between the pass rates of a variety of different groups."

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