Saying that Justice Samuel Alito, who voted to overturn Sotomayor's decision, "best captured our own feelings" in the case, Vargas said, "We did not ask for sympathy or empathy. We asked only for even-handed enforcement of the law and prior to the majority Justice opinion in our case, we were denied just that."
The case bears the name of Frank Ricci, another New Haven firefighter who testified alongside Vargas today. Ricci said he appreciated the invitation by Republican Senators to tell their story.
"The price of democracy is vigilance and to be willing to participate," Ricci said.
"This is America. If we keep going forward, the process will work," he added, recalling discussions with the others who joined the lawsuit and their lawyers during the arduous legal battle. But Ricci said the process was worthwhile, calling it "an unbelievable civics lesson, that if you participate in democracy, that's how it all works."
Senators finished questioning for Sotomayor before the witnesses -- including the firefighters, New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg and legendary district attorney Robert Morgenthau -- began their statements.
Graham has taken several swipes at Sotomayor, asking earlier in the week if she thinks she has a "temperament problem" and decrying remark a remark she made that a "wise Latina" judge might arrive at a better conclusion than a white man in some cases.
Sotomayor has repeatedly tried to explain the statement, which she made in several speeches earlier this decade, saying she doesn't believe any one group has a monopoly on wisdom.
Graham acknowledged today that she has worked very hard and earned the respect of many, but added that she has also "said some things that just bugged the hell out of me."
Asked once again what she would say to people offended by the "wise Latina" comment, she told Graham, "I regret that I have offended some people. I believe that my life demonstrates that that was not my intent to leave the impression that some have taken from my words."
"You know what, Judge? I agree with you. Good luck," Graham said, sounding more conciliatory than he had in past exchanges.
After senators exhausted their questions, the panels of witnesses began testifying for and against the nominee.
Democrats have asked for the testimony of her former employers and mentors, including legendary New York District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau and former FBI Director Louis Freeh.
In an article for the New York Daily News, Morgenthau wrote glowingly about his former employee: "Assistant District Attorney Sotomayor was no 'liberal.' Rather, she was a tough and effective prosecutor. Young prosecutors are sometimes picked on by judges and defense attorneys, but no one successfully pushed this ADA around." To the general public, Sotomayor is perhaps best known for her ruling as a lower court judge in 1995 that ended a baseball strike. Upon her nomination President Obama said:
"In a decision that reportedly took her just 15 minutes to announce -- a swiftness much appreciated by baseball fans everywhere… she issued an injunction that helped end the strike. Some say that Judge Sotomayor saved baseball."
David Cone, a former major league player, will testify on her behalf.