Sotomayor Takes the Hot Seat for Confirmation

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WASHINGTON - Flanked by family, friends and a few supporters, Judge Sonia Sotomayor took the hot seat for the beginning of her Senate confirmation hearing -- a pivotal point on her road to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Before the hearing officially began, she exchanged greetings and handshakes from the Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and top-ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala.

Click play for more on Sotomayor's confirmation hearings with Gary Marx of the Judicial Confirmation Network.  Also, get analysis here with Regent University School of Governement's Charles Dunn on what to expect in the hearings.

But the pleasantries ended there.

There's a stark contrast between the support she has from Democrats and the lack of support she has from leading Republicans.

Democrats praise her life story from the projects to Princeton. And they praise her extensive judicial record, saying she's a proven judge who will apply equal justice under the law.

"Let no one demean this extraordinary woman," Sen. Leahy said.

Republicans, however, questioned whether she will allow race, gender and empathy to shape how she will rule from the bench, pointing to a her decision against white firefighters in a reverse discrimination lawsuit and a comment she made about "a wise Latina woman" reaching a better conclusion than a white male.

"I will not vote for, and no senator should vote for an individual nominated by any president who believes it is acceptable for a judge to allow their own personal background, gender, prejudices or sympathies to sway their decision," Sen. Sessions said.

"Call it empathy, call it prejudice or call it sympathy, but whatever it is, it's not law," he said. "In truth, it's more akin to politics, and politics has no place in the courtroom."

Monday's hearing is only the beginning. Members of the Judiciary Committee each get 30 minutes to question her on Tuesday.

Later this week, they'll hear from witnesses who support her, like New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg -- and those who don't, including two Connecticut firefighters she ruled against.

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