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Hatch asks nominee questions from Utahns

Published: Friday, July 17 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

Instead of just asking his own questions of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, Sen. Orrin Hatch asked her some on Thursday that Utahns suggested.

"I invited constituents in Utah to send their questions, and got an overwhelming response," he said. But he asked only two of them. One was about whether the role of judges is to correct social injustice, and the other was whether the Constitution is more important than more recent court opinions.

Hatch said one Utahn asked "whether you see the courts, especially the Supreme Court, as an institution to resolving perceived social injustices, inequities and disadvantages?" (Hatch added, "I thought it was an interesting question.")

"No, that's not the role of the courts," Sotomayor said.

"The role of the courts is to interpret the law as Congress writes it," she said, adding that may incidentally have the outcome of fixing social injustice. "But it's not the role of the judge to create that outcome. It's to interpret what Congress is doing, and do what Congress wants."

Hatch said, "Another constituent asked, 'Which is more important or deserves more weight: the Constitution as it was originally intended, or newer legal precedent?' " (Hatch added, "That's a good question.")

"What governs always is the Constitution," Sotomayor said.

"The intent of the founders was set forth in the Constitution. They created the words. They created the document. It is their words that is the most important aspect of judging. You follow what they said and their words, and you apply it to the facts you are looking at," she said.

Hatch added that many of the questions Utahns submitted were about gun rights, but such questions had already been asked (without Sotomayor revealing much about her views).

But Hatch asked a question of his own relating to gun rights — whether Sotomayor felt a Supreme Court majority in a gun rights case last year "demonstrated some kind of right-wing judicial activism that some have characterized the decision."

"No," Sotomayor said. "I don't view what a court does as activism. I view it as each judge principally interpreting the issue before them on the basis of the law."

Hatch also asked Sotomayor if when she was on the board of a Puerto Rican legal defense fund whether she knew about or agreed with several legal briefs it filed opposing some restrictions on abortion.

"I was not a lawyer on the fund," she said. "I was a board member. … I never reviewed the briefs."

She added, "I knew generally they were filing briefs. I wouldn't know until after the fact that the brief was actually filed, and I wouldn't review it."

e-mail: lee@desnews.com

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