By Alexander Bolton
Posted: 07/15/09 01:06 PM [ET]
The National Rifle Association (NRA) has questioned Sonia Sotomayor’s fitness to serve on the Supreme Court, a troubling sign for the nominee in what has so far been a smooth confirmation hearing.
The NRA is considered one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington and holds sway with Democrats from conservative states, who could side with Republicans in opposing the nominee.
Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the NRA, blasted Sotomayor for ruling that the Second Amendment’s protection of gun rights does not apply to state and local governments and for being “evasive” when asked about whether gun ownership is a fundamental right.
“As the Senate considers the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor, Americans are watching to see if this nominee would lend her support to those who’ve declared war on the rights of America’s 80 million gun owners,” LaPierra wrote in a statement posted on the group’s website Wednesday. “After the first day of confirmation hearings, gun owners have good reason to worry.”
Sen. Jeff Sessions (Ala.), the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, referred to the NRA's statement during Wednesday's question-and-answer session.
Sotomayor ruled in Maloney v. Cuomo (aka Maloney v. Rice) that the Second Amendment only applies to federal law. In U.S. v. Sanchez-Villar, Sotomayor concluded that the right to possess a gun is not fundamental.
Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn (R) repeatedly asked Sotomayor whether she believed citizens have a right to defend themselves, a line of inquiry the nominee dodged.
“I don’t know if that legal question has ever been presented,” Sotomayor said.
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 —"
Cornyn grew impatient, cutting her off: “I think that’s what American people want to hear, Your Honor.”
On Tuesday, Sotomayor declined to answer a question from Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) challenging her ruling that gun ownership is not a fundamental right.
“[What] you wrote leaves the impression that unless the right to bear arms is considered fundamental, any gun restriction is necessarily permissible under the Second Amendment,” Hatch said. “Is that what you believe?”
Sotomayor answered: “I'm not taking an opinion on that issue, because it's an open question.”
The NRA raised concerns about Sotomayor before the hearing.
On July 7, Chris Cox, the executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, wrote a letter to Senate leaders raising concerns over Sotomayor.
“Out of respect for the confirmation process, the NRA has not announced an official position on Judge Sotomayor's confirmation. However, should her answers regarding the Second Amendment at the upcoming hearings be hostile or evasive, we will have no choice but to oppose her nomination to the Court,” Cox warned.