Elena Kagan awaits grilling; Supreme Court senate hearing begins

Supreme court justice nominee Elena kagan

Elena Kagan's confirmation hearings for her nomination to serve as Supreme Court justice began Monday with senators following the prescribed scripts dictated by their parties. Flickr photo.

The Senate opened Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Elena Kagan Monday. The actual grilling of Kagan by senators probably won’t begin until Tuesday. The first day of the Elena Kagan confirmation hearings will be spent by members of the Senate Judiciary Committee making their own statements. Remarks in favor or opposed to President’ Obama’s nomination of Elena Kagan are expected to be traditional arguments that fall along party lines.

Elena Kagan’s not a judge

Elena Kagan is Obama’s choice to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens. She has been serving as the administration’s solicitor general, the person charged with arguing the administration’s point of view in cases that go before the Supreme Court. Unlike the other current members of the Supreme Court, Kagan has no experience as a judge. However, several justices have become members of the Supreme Court without having served as judges, including former chief justice William Rehnquist.

Elena Kagan’s Republican opposition

Some analysts have said that Kagan’s lack of judicial experience gives Republicans no record of decisions to use against her. But Voice of America reports that one of the few straws the Republicans have to grasp is asking Kagan about her tenure as dean of Harvard University Law School in Massachusetts, and in particular her decision to bar military recruiters on campus because of the U.S. military policy of barring gays from openly serving in the armed forces.

Senate Judiciary Committee hearings follow script

When Kagan sat down before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday, senators stuck to the script. The Assocated Press provides a convenient summary of what to expect from both sides of the aisle. Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, the ranking Republican on the panel, sought to incriminate Kagan with her college thesis on socialism, which he said “seems to bemoan socialism’s demise.” Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley said she’d been a “political lawyer.” Arizona Republican Jon Kyl complained about her choice of judicial heroes. Utah Republican Orrin Hatch wondered if she would be controlled by the Constitution or try to control it.

Kagan’s Democratic counterpunchers

Kagan watched the show as Democrats sought to block Republican punches. Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont called her legal credentials “unassailable.” California’s Dianne Feinstein called her lack of experience as a judge “refreshing.” Russell Feingold of Wisconsin spoke of her “thoughtfulness and openness.” Charles Schumer of New York said her “brilliant” record was clear and complete, declaring: “The only thing as far as I can tell that we don’t have is her kindergarten report card.”

Kagan filibuster a last resort

Before Kagan speaks, each of the committee’s 19 members — 12 Democrats and seven Republicans — will spout their party’s line. USA Today reports that the Democratic majority in the Senate, 58 votes to 41, makes Kagan’s confirmation a slam dunk unless Republicans decide to launch a Kagan filibuster, the last resort of a minority to block a nomination by debating it to death.

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