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Sotomayor Back For Another Round Of Questions


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep. The subject and the tone swing rapidly as senators question Sonia Sotomayor this week.

MONTAGNE: Sometimes the mood is lighthearted. Lawmakers know she's favored to win confirmation.

INSKEEP: Sometimes the mood turns serious. Senators also know this is their only chance to put the nominee on the record before they vote on her lifetime appointment to a job where she can, among other things, overturn laws that they pass.

Here is NPR's legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg.

NINA TOTENBERG: Like the two Bush Supreme Court appointees before her, Sotomayor has followed a strategy of first take no risks and do no harm. And so while political opponents do everything that they can to force a real response or reaction, what they get is prepared generalities, a strong commitment to follow the law and genteel reminders that any substantive answer would be improper because whatever the issue is, it might come before the Supreme Court in the future. That was true on the abortion question, too, except for this wrinkle. Texas Republican John Cornyn asked about press reports that the White House had assured pro-choice groups that Sotomayor is an abortion rights supporter. How did the White House know that, he asked. And had the nominee been questioned on the subject?

Judge SONIA SOTOMAYOR (Federal Judge; Presidential Nominee for Supreme Court): I was asked no question by anyone, including the president, about my views on any specific legal issue.

NINA TOTENBERG: Cornyn then asked Sotomayor about a statement from her former law partner George Pavia.

Senator JOHN CORNYN (Republican, Texas): He's quoted in this article, saying, quote, �I can guarantee she'll be for abortion rights,� close quote. On what basis would Mr. Pavia say that, if you know?

Judge SOTOMAYOR: I have no idea, since I know for a fact I never spoke to him about my views on abortion - frankly, on my views on any social issue.

TOTENBERG: Moving on to gun rights, Oklahoma Republican Tom Coburn asked whether people have a constitutional right to defend themselves. Under most state laws, they do, said Sotomayor, but it may depend on whether the danger is imminent.

Judge SOTOMAYOR: Please, I'm not - I don't want anybody to misunderstand what I'm trying to say. 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...

Sen. CORNYN: You'll have lots of �splaining to do.

(Soundbite of laughter)

TOTENBERG: Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar lightened the mood even more when she asked Sotomayor, a devoted Yankees fan, this question.

Senator AMY KLOBUCHAR (Democrat, Minnesota): All these guys have been asking about your baseball case and they've been talking about umpires and judges as umpires. Did you have a chance to watch the All-Star game last night? Because most of America didn't watch the replay of your hearing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Sen. KLOBUCHAR: They might have been watching it.

Judge SOTOMAYOR: I haven't seen television...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Judge SOTOMAYOR: ...for a very long time. But I will admit that I turned it on for a little while.


Judge SOTOMAYOR: Minnesota's other senator, Al Franken, in his debut performance as a Senate Judiciary Committee questioner, returned to the serious subject of abortion. He noted that Sotomayor had previously acknowledged the word abortion is not in the constitution.

Senator AL FRANKEN (Democrat, Minnesota): Are the words birth control in the constitution?

Judge SOTOMAYOR: No, sir.

Sen. FRANKEN: Are you sure?


Sen. FRANKEN: Okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Sen. FRANKEN: Are the words privacy in the constitution, or the word?

Judge SOTOMAYOR: The word privacy is not.

Sen. FRANKEN: Uh-huh. Do you believe that the constitution contains a fundamental right to privacy?

Judge SOTOMAYOR: It contains, as has been recognized by the courts for over 90 years, certain rights under the liberty provision of the due process clause that extend to the right to privacy in certain situations. This line of cases started with a recognition that parents have a right to direct the education of their children.

TOTENBERG: Franken told Sotomayor that he shared with her a childhood love of the �Perry Mason� TV program, and he asked the nominee in which episode Mason's client was convicted.

Judge SOTOMAYOR: I know that I should remember the name of it, but I haven't looked at the episode...

Sen. FRANKEN: Didn't the White House prepare you for...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Sen. FRANKEN: ...for that?

TOTENBERG: For the record, it was the �Case of the Deadly Verdict.�

(Soundbite of song, �Theme from Perry Mason�)

TOTENBERG: Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington.

(Soundbite of song, �Theme from Perry Mason�)

INSKEEP: There's no mystery as to how you can keep up with the proceedings when you check the day's news. Later today at, you will find live video of the hearing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Nina Totenberg
Nina Totenberg is NPR's award-winning legal affairs correspondent. Her reports air regularly on NPR's critically acclaimed newsmagazines All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Weekend Edition.