Sen. Grassley: Sotomayor Off To 'Good Start'

Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa says Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor got off to a good start Monday, the first day of her confirmation hearing.

"She was very positive in saying today that fidelity for the law is going to be her benchmark," Grassley tells NPR's Robert Siegel. "The extent to which she doesn't distract from that over the next three days is going to help her standing with members of the committee, particularly Republican members of the committee."

Republican senators have raised concerns about Sotomayor's impartiality. Grassley has questioned President Obama's statement that he wanted to nominate a justice with "empathy."

"This empathy standard is troubling to me," Grassley said during the hearing. "In fact, I'm concerned that judging based on empathy is really just legislating from the bench."

Grassley tells Siegel that it's important to look at the role of a judge in the U.S. system of government.

"A legislator is to pass laws, because if you don't like the laws, you can vote them out of office. But in the case of a judge, they have lifetime appointments. You can't vote them out of office. So under our checks and balances system of government, it's very important that judges judge — in other words, interpret the law — and that legislators make law," he says.

But Grassley points out that most of the criticism of Sotomayor has not come from the cases she's decided.

"Most of it has ... come from speeches she's given off the bench and interviews she's given off the bench and things of that nature," he says. "So, maybe she's going to convince us that, in a sense, her political statements were nothing more than just her political statements, and they have nothing to do with her judging."

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