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The Alabama senator leading the GOP’s vetting of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor said the American tradition of impartial courts is "under attack" and the pivotal question in her nomination should be whether she allows personal views to color her decisions as a judge.
Delivering the Republican Party’s weekly radio and Internet address Saturday, Sen. Jeff Sessions didn’t say if he thinks Sotomayor crosses that line. But he raised questions that reflect a growing chorus of GOP criticism that Sotomayor sees her role as something more than an impartial umpire.
Republicans have recently seized on speeches in which Sotomayor said she hoped a wise woman or Latina "with the richness of her experiences" would make better, more compassionate decisions in court than a white man.
While he didn’t specifically mention those remarks, Sessions asked "if a judge is allowed to let his or her feelings for one party in the case sway his decision, hasn’t that judge then demonstrated a bias against the other party?"
"Although we sometimes take our heritage of neutral and independent judiciary for granted, the truth is, this great tradition is under attack," he said.
Sessions said Americans should follow the confirmation process closely and ask what kind of judge they would want in court.
"Do I want a judge that allows his or her social, political or religious views to impact the outcome, or do I want a judge that objectively applies the law to the facts?" he said. "That is the central question around which this entire nomination process will revolve."
Sotomayor, who was raised in a working-class family in the Bronx and would be the first Hispanic justice, told senators in private meetings this week that while her background shapes who she is, she believes judges should follow the law above all.
President Barack Obama has said she misspoke when she made her "wise Latina" remarks and probably would phrase them differently today.
Some Republicans have labeled her a racist for the comments. Sessions has called such criticism inappropriate and said Sotomayor has an impressive life story and resume. But he is trying to slow down Democrats’ plans for a summertime confirmation, saying Republicans need more time to review her record.