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Sotomayor Pressed on Ethnicity and Gender

Judge Sonia Sotomayor insisted Tuesday under pointed questioning that her ethnicity and gender will not influence her decisions if she is confirmed as the Supreme Court's first Hispanic justice.

Republicans, led by Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, repeatedly pressed Sotomayor on the second day of confirmation hearings about her previous statements that "a wise Latina woman" could reach better decisions than white male colleagues.

"I want to state up front unequivocally and without doubt, I do not believe any ethnic, racial or gender group has an advantage in sound judging," Sotomayor told the Senate Judiciary Committee members. She called the "wise Latina" comment "a rhetorical flourish that fell flat."

In nearly seven hours of questioning - with more set for today - Sotomayor said she respects the Supreme Court's decision that the Second Amendment grants individuals the right to own firearms. She also said she considers "settled law" the court's 2007 decision upholding a federal ban on the procedure critics call "partial birth" abortion.

Sotomayor also differed with President Obama's statement that "the critical ingredient" in any difficult decision "is supplied by what is in a judge's heart." Obama made the statement, as a senator in 2005, as he explained his vote against the confirmation of Chief Justice John Roberts.

Asked if she agreed, Sotomayor said, "No."

"Judges can't rely on what's in their heart," she said. "They don't determine the law. Congress makes the laws."

Sotomayor's remarks came on the same day that Obama, in a letter to supporters, predicted his nominee will be "a justice who will never forget her humble beginnings." The judge, who grew up in a Bronx public housing project, said she believes her life experiences "enrich" the judiciary but do not alter her interpretation of the law.

"I have a record for 17 years," said Sotomayor, who became a federal judge in 1992. "It is very clear that I don't base my judgments on my personal experiences - or my feelings or my biases."

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