Page last updated at 16:04 GMT, Tuesday, 14 July 2009 17:04 UK

Sotomayor defends Latina comments

Sonia Sotomayor
Sonia Sotomayor will be the first Hispanic to serve if confirmed

US Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor has defended comments that seemed to suggest a "wise Latina" could make better decisions than a white man.

She was speaking on the second day of her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Ms Sotomayor also said abortion rights were "settled precedent" and that there was a constitutional right to privacy.

Nominated by the US president, Ms Sotomayor will be the first Hispanic to serve on the court if she is confirmed.

'Equal opportunity'

Ms Sotomayor told the top Republican on the Committee, Sen Jeff Sessions, that her remark that "a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would, more often than not, reach a better conclusion" than a white male judge was an attempted "play on words" that "fell flat".

1954: Born in South Bronx to Puerto Rican parents
Father died when she was aged nine and her mother raised her
1979: Graduates from Yale and serves as an assistant district attorney in New York County
1984: Moves into private practice, specialising in intellectual property
1991: George Bush Snr chooses her as a district judge
1997: Bill Clinton nominates her to the circuit court

"It was bad because it left an impression that I believed that life experiences commanded a result in a case, but that's clearly not what I do as a judge," she added.

She earlier told committee chairman Sen Patrick Leahy: "I want to state upfront, unequivocally and without doubt: I do not believe that any racial, ethnic or gender group has an advantage in sound judging.

"I do believe that every person has an equal opportunity to be a good and wise judge, regardless of their background or life experiences," she said.

Ms Sotomayor was asked what she felt of the Roe vs Wade ruling that legalised abortion in 1973.

She said that, subject to subsequent reversals, "all precedents of the Supreme Court I consider settled law".

On privacy, she said: "There is a right of privacy. The court has found it in various places in the Constitution."

Her comments came on the second day of hearings, in which committee members were able to put direct questions to Ms Sotomayor for the first time.

The first day, on Monday, was taken up with opening statements from the committee members and from Ms Sotomayor herself.

In her statement, Ms Sotomayor, 55, told the committee that her personal story - of growing up in a poor New York neighbourhood to Puerto Rican parents, going to law school and rising to become an appeals court judge - was "uniquely American".

Later this week, senators will question other witnesses about Ms Sotomayor's record as a judge.

Confirmation hearings for a new Supreme Court justice provide one of Washington's most imposing pieces of political theatre, correspondents say.

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