After weeks of public silence, Judge Sonia Sotomayor used the opening statement of her Supreme Court confirmation hearing today to tell members of the Senate Judiciary committee and some skeptical Republicans that she will not let her personal beliefs get in the way of her impartiality.
"In the past month," she said, "senators have asked me about my judicial philosophy. Simple: fidelity to the law. The task of a judge is not to make the law -- it is to apply the law."
Sotomayor referenced her upbringing in a Bronx, N.Y., housing project and her mother's commitment to education.
"My father, a factory worker with a third grade education, passed away when I was nine years old," she said. "My mother raised my brother and me. She taught us that the key to success in America is a good education."
In a steady and confident voice she talked about her early days working as an assistant district attorney in Manhattan. "I saw children exploited and abused. I felt the suffering of victim's families torn apart by a loved one's needless death. And I learned the tough job law enforcement has protecting the public safety."
But to quell criticism that some have voiced about her becoming an "activist judge," she added forcefully, "My personal and professional experiences help me listen and understand, with the law always commanding the result in every case."
The first day of the confirmation hearing also included the opening statements of all 19 members of the Senate Judiciary committee, who drew sharp distinctions in their opinions regarding her record.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Judiciary Committee, praised Sotomayor for her life story saying, "Hers is a success story in which all, all Americans can take pride" but he took aim at "ideological groups" which he says have lead to unfair attacks on the nominee.
"Let no one demean this extraordinary woman," he said.
Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., the leading Republican member of the Committee, came out swinging. Referencing comments made by President Obama that he wanted to nominate a candidate with "empathy." Sessions said, "I fear this empathy standard." Sessions said, "I fear this empathy standard."
Sessions said that he was "troubled" by some of Sotomayor's rulings and he worried that she might be a nominee whose "personal background" or "sympathies" might affect her neutrality as a judge.
"Call it empathy" he said, "call it prejudice, call it sympathy, but whatever it is it is not law."
Although Republicans are spoiling for a fight, they're also facing the reality that Sotomayor comes with 17 years of experience as a federal judge and will be supported by a solid Democratic majority in the Senate.
Barring a poor performance at her confirmation hearing or a last-minute revelation shedding new light on her record, court watchers believe her confirmation is all but certain.
"This is a slam dunk," says Thomas Goldstein a lawyer who often appears before the high court and runs the popular blog Scotusblog.
At today's hearing, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham even noted, "Now, unless you have a complete meltdown, you're going to get confirmed," to which Sotomayor laughed.