Perry Mason's words 'molded' Sotomayor

ByABC News
July 15, 2009, 10:38 PM

— -- Like Supreme Court nominees before her, Judge Sonia Sotomayor came to her confirmation hearings armed with names of legal greats who inspired her. Wednesday, she invoked Perry Mason.

Sotomayor recalled watching the TV series about the fictional defense attorney as a child and said it inspired her to pursue a career in law. She remembered one of Mason's courtroom rivals telling him, "Justice is served when a guilty man is convicted and when an innocent man is not."

"That TV character said something that molded my life," Sotomayor said. Her more conventional choice of a role model is the late Justice Benjamin Cardozo, whose name she dropped earlier this week.

The Perry Mason reference was one of several moments in which Sotomayor flashed a down-to-earth personality and a grasp of pop culture that has helped charm Democratic and Republican senators on the Judiciary Committee, even as she refused to let them pin her down on abortion and other controversial topics.

On abortion, Sotomayor said she made no promises to anyone about how she'd vote including President Obama, who nominated her and said as a candidate that he would make "preserving a woman's right to choose under Roe v. Wade a priority."

"I was asked no question by anyone, including the president, about my views on any specific legal issue," Sotomayor said.

Republican senators such as John Cornyn of Texas pressed the nominee on her views of the landmark 1973 case that made abortion legal nationwide. She said only that she would follow court precedent on abortion.

In 17 years as a federal judge, Sotomayor has decided cases only on the fringes of the abortion debate.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., an obstetrician and outspoken abortion opponent, asked whether medical technology that has improved the survival rate for babies born prematurely should alter justices' views about the constitutionality of abortion in the early stages of pregnancy. Sotomayor declined to engage the topic.