WASHINGTON (AFP) - Sonia Sotomayor, nearly sure to become the first Hispanic US Supreme Court justice, distanced herself Tuesday from her past remark that a Latina womans heritage might make her a better judge. On the second of at least four days of confirmation hearings by the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sotomayor called the much-criticised comment a rhetorical flourish that fell flat. I want to state up front, unequivocally and without doubt, I do not believe that any ethnic, racial or gender group has an advantage in sound judging, the appeals court judge, 55, told the panel. I do believe that every person has an equal opportunity to be a good and wise judge regardless of their background or life experiences, the appeals judge told the committee after weeks of fierce attacks on her impartiality. Her comments came in response to questions by the panels top Republican, Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, about her remark that: I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would, more often than not, reach a better conclusion than a white judge. It was bad, because it left an impression that I believed that life experiences commanded a result in a case, but thats clearly not what I do as a judge, she said. Republican officials and conservative commentators have seized on the remark to accuse Sotomayor, whose family hails from the US Caribbean territory of Puerto Rico, of saying that racial background shapes judicial rulings. Sessions said he remained very troubled and that he worried any such bias would reach full flower if the Senate confirms the judge to what is a lifetime appointment on the highest US court. Sotomayor, who would be just the third woman to serve on the nine-member high court, also sought to quiet Republican charges that she would tip the benchs balance against the US Constitutional right to own firearms. I understand how important the right to bear arms is to many, many Americans, she said, underlining that she would follow Supreme Court precedent. Sotomayors rise from a poor childhood in New York Citys hardscrabble Bronx to the pinnacle of US judicial life mirrors the remarkable ascent of President Barack Obama, who nominated her seven weeks ago. Sotomayors confirmation was virtually assured: Democrats dominate the committee and have, at least on paper, the 60 votes needed to overrun any Republican effort in the Senate to stymie the nomination. Sotomayor would replace retiring Justice David Souter on the high court, which often confronts volatile political and social issues, including gun control and abortion. The panel was to hear from 31 witnesses, including former FBI director Louis Freeh, who mentored Sotomayor, and Linda Chavez, a conservative activist. Republicans have given one of their 14 witness slots to one of the white firefighters whose claim of racial discrimination Sotomayor and two fellow judges rejected only to have the Supreme Court reverse that ruling in late June. The issue was not what we would do or not do, because we were following precedent, said Sotomayor. She underlined that it was up to lawmakers not judges to decide whether affirmative action for minorities was needed, and in what form. Princeton-educated Sotomayor would replace retired Justice David Souter on and be the second woman currently on the court, alongside Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and the third after retired justice Sandra Day OConnor. The court, which acts as the final arbiter of the US Constitution, is often called upon to adjudicate bitter political disputes on volatile issues like abortion, gun rights, rights of war on terror prisoners, and programs to benefit racial minorities. Sotomayor tread carefully on questions about the Supreme Court itself, indicating she favoured allowing television cameras to cover the proceedings but that she would discuss the matter with her colleagues, and declining to say with which of the justices she identified. Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California praised her patience with some of the criticisms, giving her an A++ in temperament.