Bennett says Sotomayor wants to be judged on court rulings, not speeches

Published June 17, 2009 7:29 pm
Supreme Court » Utah senator discussed Second Amendment, campaign finance reform with Obama's nominee.
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Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor wants senators to scrutinize her court rulings -- not her past speeches -- in determining whether they will support her nomination, says Utah Sen. Bob Bennett.

Bennett, a Republican, met privately with Sotomayor for half an hour on Wednesday.

"She said to me, 'As you look at the record, focus on my opinions and not on my speeches, because my opinions will tell you what kind of a judge I am,' " Bennett said in recounting the discussion.

"I think that is a fair request on her part and that is what I will do."

Sotomayor had been dubbed a "racist" by the likes of radio personality Rush Limbaugh for a comment in a 2001 speech in which she said "a wise Latina woman" would often reach better conclusions than a white man because of her life experiences. Many Republicans, including Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, have rejected Limbaugh's criticism.

But Hatch, among others, has pointed to public comments, such as a 1996 law review article in which Sotomayor endorsed "legal realism," as evidence that her opinions, instead of the law, may impact her rulings.

Bennett agreed on Wednesday to brush the controversies aside and base his decision on what he finds in her more than 3,000 court rulings as a 17-year veteran federal judge.

"We will look at all the cases that she ruled on and make the final decision on that basis," said Bennett, who voted for her confirmation to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in 1998.

Bennett found Sotomayor to be "very bright" and "obviously a very well-trained and well-grounded attorney."

The two talked about campaign finance reform laws, which Bennett has opposed because he believes they violate free speech rights.

They also discussed Second Amendment cases, including the high court's recent ruling that individuals have a right to own a gun. But one of the next gun cases expected to reach the Supreme Court focuses on whether or not the amendment applies to states and local governments, which would limit their ability to pass gun-control measures.

Sotomayor was a member of a three-judge panel that ruled that the Second Amendment is binding law only at the federal level.

Bennett told Sotomayor that he disagrees with that ruling.

Sotomayor has routinely met with five or six senators each day as she works toward her July 13 hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Bennett met with her in the Capitol office of Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin because she is hobbled by a broken ankle.

Sotomayor is President Barack Obama's pick to replace retiring liberal Justice David Souter. Most senators expect her to be ultimately confirmed, though Republicans have balked at the time frame for the hearings, claiming it is a rush job.

If confirmed, she would be the first Latina on the nation's high court and the third woman.

mcanham@sltrib.com" Target="_BLANK">mcanham@sltrib.com

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