Sotomayor Grilled on Abortion, Gun Rights

Supreme Court nominee restates view that judges don't make law or set policy.

ByABC News
July 13, 2009, 5:01 PM

July 15, 2009— -- On the third day of her confirmation hearings ,Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor today declined to respond to senators' questions asking her explain her personal views on hot button social issues such as abortion and gun rights hearings.

In today's morning session, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., pressed Sotomayor on comments she made Tuesday noting that a 1992 case, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, reaffirmed Roe v. Wade, the landmark case that found that a woman has a constitutional right to an abortion.

"Where are we today? What is the settled law in America about abortion?" Coburn asked.

"I can speak to what the court has set in its precedent. In Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the court reaffirmed the core holding of Roe v. Wade that a woman has a constitutional right to terminate her pregnancy in certain circumstances," she said.

Coburn, a staunch abortion rights opponent and physician who notes on his official Web site that he's delivered "more than 4,000 babies," offered medical scenarios and posed questions about technology's bearing on interpretation of the law in an apparent attempt to clarify Sotomayor's stance on the issue.

But as she did when she faced similar lines of questions Tuesday, Sotomayor declined to answer questions presented "in the abstract" and deferred to precedent set forth in past court decisions.

"We don't make policy choices in the court," she added. "We look at the case before us with the interests that are argued by the parties, look at our precedent, and try to apply its principles to the arguments parties are raising."

Pointing out that recent technological advances allow medical personnel to record fetal heartbeats and brainwaves within weeks of conception, Coburn said, "I don't expect you to answer this, but I do expect you to pay attention to it as you contemplate these big issues is we have this schizophrenic rule of the law where we have defined death as the absence of those, but we refuse to define life as the presence of those."

When Coburn turned to a discussion on the right to defend oneself, Sotomayor said the imminence of the threat is an important question for judges to consider -- and got the ball rolling on an exchange that lightened up the otherwise serious hearing.

"If the threat was in this room, 'I'm going to come get you,' and you go home and get -- or I go home -- I don't want to suggest I am, by the way," she said.

"Please, I'm not -- I don't want anybody to misunderstand what I'm trying to say," she said as laughter erupted in the hearing room. "If I go home, get a gun, come back and shoot you, that may not be legal under New York law because you would have alternative ways to defend..."

"You'll have lots of 'splainin' to do," Coburn jumped in, perhaps channeling Desi Arnaz's iconic "I Love Lucy" character ,Ricky Ricardo.

Sotomayor chuckled and acknowledged, "I'd be in a lot of trouble then."