Obama's judge denies race bias

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President Barack Obama's choice for a soon-to-be-vacant seat on the nine-member Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor, found herself centre-stage in a predictably partisan burst of political theatrics on Capitol Hill yesterday as her confirmation hearings finally got under way.

"Our legal system is at a dangerous crossroads," declared Senator Jeff Sessions, the top-ranking Republican on the Senate's Judiciary Committee, as he rehearsed his party's refrain that Ms Sotomayor risks becoming a justice who will allow her own political prejudices to colour her interpretation of the Constitution and the law.

Citing a comment she made in 2001 arguing that a "wise Latina" would be a better judge than "a white male" because of "the richness of her experiences", Republicans have been warning that she may be tainted by prejudice.

"Down one path is the traditional American legal system, so admired around the world," Senator Sessions went on. "Down the other path lies a brave new world where words have no true meaning and judges are free to decide what facts they choose to see. In this world, a judge is free to push his or her own political and social agenda."

But Ms Sotomayor insisted she was orthodox. "In the past month, many senators have asked me about my judicial philosophy," she said. "It is simple: fidelity to the law. The task of a judge is not to make the law – it is to apply the law."

While partisan attacks were widely expected, Ms Sotomayor is likely to win sufficient votes to give her the lifetime job in the country's highest judicial body. "Unless you have a complete meltdown, you're going to get confirmed," one Republican senator told her.