Easy 3rd day for nominee Sotomayor

Sonia Sotomayor wrapped up the third day of Senate Judiciary Committee hearings Wednesday without committing any major gaffe or showing any sign of a meltdown, making her confirmation to the Supreme Court appear a safe bet.

Despite intense and at times insistent questioning about her views on abortion and gun rights, Sotomayor kept her cool and did not give Republicans any sound bite they could easily use to mount strong opposition to her nomination.

The dialogue between Sotomayor and senators sparked a few humorous moments, but there was little drama in the room as the hearing wore on.

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By the time Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchGOP eyes limits on investor tax break Children’s health-care bill faces new obstacles Overnight Finance: White House requests B for disaster relief | Ex-Equifax chief grilled over stock sales | House panel approves B for border wall | Tax plan puts swing-state Republicans in tough spot MORE (Utah), a leading Republican on the panel, got a chance to ask his second round of questions shortly before 5 p.m., interest among the audience had waned and Hatch could muster little more than a monotone for his queries.

The lack of drama may have disappointed the estimated 200 members of the media in the room — nearly two-thirds of the audience in 216 Hart — but it was exactly the type of forgettable performance that her White House handlers had hoped for: poised, professorial and providing opponents as little ammunition as possible.

Lawmakers are expected to finish their questioning on Thursday morning. Several panels of outside witnesses are to testify before the committee after she steps down.

Sotomayor repeatedly described the process of legal reasoning but offered few detailed answers about her own views on various legal cases and political issues.

The strategy, similar to the cautious approaches adopted by the last two Republican-appointed Supreme Court nominees, exasperated Republicans — and at times even Democrats.

Sotomayor continued to downplay her controversial comments while giving cautious, legalistic answers to questions on abortion, gun ownership rights, the standard for judicial review and the First Amendment’s impact on the Internet.

Republicans criticized Sotomayor for a “lack of clarity” and said that Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito gave clearer testimony when they appeared before the Judiciary panel in 2005 and 2006, respectively.

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynGun proposal picks up GOP support House bill set to reignite debate on warrantless surveillance Republicans jockey for position on immigration MORE (R-Texas) kicked off the hearing by pressing Sotomayor about her comments suggesting a “wise Latina” would show better judgment than a white man, as well as her suggestion in the same speech that “gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging.”

On Tuesday, when questioned on the same topic, she was somewhat apologetic, saying her words were “a rhetorical flourish … that fell flat.”

But when pressed Wednesday by Cornyn, she pointed out that she was not expressing a sentiment much different from what Justice Alito has said when he’s noted that he considers his Italian ancestry while deciding discrimination cases.

Sotomayor’s less contrite characterization on Wednesday prompted Republicans to accuse her of zigzagging.

“She appeared to disavow some of her comments and then today she walked back from that and seemed to reassert those words,” Cornyn said. “I think it’s very confusing.”

Nevertheless, Cornyn, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee and one of the Senate GOP’s chief political strategists, told Sotomayor that Republicans would not filibuster her nomination.

“You will get that up-or-down vote on the Senate floor,” Cornyn told the nominee.

Sen. Tom CoburnTom Coburn-trillion debt puts US fiscal house on very shaky ground Al Franken: 'I make fun of the people who deserved it' The more complex the tax code, the more the wealthy benefit MORE (R-Okla.), one of the Senate’s most outspoken members on the issues of gun rights and abortion, tried to draw Sotomayor out on those topics, but with little success.

But before he pressed her on abortion, Coburn took a moment to apologize to the nominee on behalf of anti-abortion protesters who had interrupted the hearing on several occasions.

“Anybody who values life like I do and is pro-life recognizes that the way you change minds is to not yell at people,” he said. “You love them.”

That love came in the form of some tough queries Wednesday.

Coburn posed a hypothetical question about whether an abortion should be allowed in the 38th week of pregnancy if a serious birth defect is discovered. Sotomayor declined to answer that, saying she would need to know the state law and more information about the case.

Sotomayor also declined to answer a seemingly straightforward question from Coburn about whether she thought Americans have a right to defend themselves.

“I don’t know if that legal question has ever been presented,” Sotomayor replied.

Coburn kept pressing: “I wasn’t asking about the legal question, I’m asking about your personal opinion.”

Sotomayor: “That is sort of an abstract question with no particular meaning to me outside — ”

Coburn grew impatient and cut her off: “I think that’s what American people want to hear, Your Honor.”

Outside the hearing, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyOvernight Regulation: Massachusetts AG sues Equifax | Trump weighs easing rules on gun exports | EPA nominee to fight worker safety rule in court Trump to ease rules on gun exports: report Overnight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions MORE (D-Vt.) defended the nominee when asked about Republican grumbling over her cautious responses.

“I cannot think of any nominee who has answered more questions more in depth than Judge Sotomayor has,” said Leahy, who noted he has been a member of the Senate for the confirmation of every sitting member of the Supreme Court. “She could have very easily have done one- or two- or three-word answers.”

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Sotomayor gave careful and qualified answers to questions on wonky topics such as Internet regulation, standards for Supreme Court review of cases and the appropriate use of foreign law in legal decisions.

Sotomayor said that foreign law could not serve as any precedent and that references to rulings from other countries should only be used to stimulate academic-type legal discussion.

On the subject of the Internet, she declined to say that the First Amendment might restrict telecom companies’ regulating Web content. And she declined to articulate a standard for Supreme Court review of cases, in the last instance irking Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.), the newly minted Democrat who served as Republican Judiciary Committee chairman when Roberts and Alito were confirmed.

“I think your record is exemplary, Judge Sotomayor,” said Specter. “I’m not commenting about your answers, but your record is exemplary.”

The audience laughed in acknowledgement that Sotomayor’s confirmation has made for boring political theater. Specter reminded the audience, however, that the nominee would be judged more on her record than her answers before the panel.