Sotomayor Faces Final Scrutiny as First Hispanic in US Supreme Court

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Sonia Sotomayor has decided advantages as she begins the most important trial of her long legal career, a nationally televised consideration of her nomination to be the first Hispanic and just the third woman on the US Supreme Court.Beginning Monday, the daughter of Puerto Rican parents will tell her compelling up-from-poverty personal story to a jury tilted strongly in her favor.Democrats hold a comfortable majority on the Senate Judiciary Committee and hold 60 seats in the Senate, enough to block any attempt by Republicans to use a legislative maneuver known as a filibuster to block a vote on her nomination.Still, Republicans signaled that they will press the 55-year-old New Yorker and veteran federal judge to explain past rulings involving discrimination complaints and gun rights, as well as comments that they say raise doubts about Sotomayor’s ability to judge cases fairly.The sharpest comments about her on the eve of the hearings came Sunday from Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the senior Republican on the committee.Sotomayor has said repeatedly in speeches over the past 10 years that personal experiencesinfluence a judge’s decisions, Sessions said on CBS television’s “Face the Nation.’’“She has criticized the idea that a woman and a man would reach the same result. She expects them to reach different results. I think that’s philosophically incompatible with the American system,’’ Sessions said.Her defenders have tried to paint a picture of Sotomayor as a meticulous judge who “goes out of her way, as a good jurist should, to follow the law, no matter what her sympathies tell her,’’ Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York told The Associated Press last week.Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the committee chairman, said Sunday on CBS that Sotomayor’s 17-year record on the federal bench shows her to be a “mainstream judge.’’The questioning of Sotomayor won’t even begin until Tuesday, after the 12 Democrats and sevenRepublicans on the committee use up to 10 minutes each for preliminary remarks and the nominee makes her opening statement.President Barack Obama chose Sotomayor in late May to take the place of Justice David Souter, who retired last month. The switch would not appreciably alter the balance of power on the conservative-leaning court which has four liberal and four conservative justices, with right-of-center Justice Anthony Kennedy often casting the decisive vote in split decisions.Obama called Sotomayor on Sunday to wish her luck at the hearings, compliment her for making courtesy calls to 89 senators and express his confidence that she would win Senate approval, the White House said.In choosing Sotomayor, Obama also has put pressure on Republicans who might be forced to temper their opposition because of their need to increase their appeal to Hispanic voters, the fastest-growing segment of the electorate. …