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Elena Kagan's Senate Rounds: Day 2 Includes Seven More Stops

5 years ago
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Eight senators down, 92 to go. That's the count as of Thursday morning for the arduous and sometimes awkward road that Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan must travel as she meets with the 100 U.S. senators who hold her professional fate in their hands.

On Wednesday, the current solicitor general sat down with the most senior members of the Senate -- five Democrats and three Republicans -- for meetings that ranged from an hour-long murder board with Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) to a relatively casual meet-and-greet with Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.).

Kagan continues her march on the Hill Thursday, with seven more senators on her schedule.

While Sessions grilled her on everything from the rights of terrorists to her decision to keep military recruiters out of Harvard Law's career department, Durbin managed to squeeze in talk about Chicago's best pizza between discussions of executive power and Kagan's now-famous law review article that called the Supreme Court nomination process a "vapid and hollow charade." ("She said the world looks a little bit different from this vantage point," Durbin said.)
The day resulted in a slightly clearer picture of who Elena Kagan is as a person, along with explicit guidance from senators about the road ahead for her likely confirmation.

Kagan began her meetings with a one-on-one with Majority Leader Harry Reid, and later with Republican Leader Mitch McConnell.

Reid said the meeting left him confident the Kagan is the right choice to replace retiring Justice John Paul Stevens,
but McConnell said that Kagan's current job defending the Obama administration before the Supreme Court as the solicitor general left him skeptical that she can objectively rule about administration policies in the future.

"Americans want to know that Ms. Kagan will be independent, that she won't prejudge cases based on her personal opinions, that she'll treat everyone equally, as the judicial oath requires," McConnell said. "She has never had to develop a judicial habit of saying no to an administration. And we can't simply assume that she would."

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But Sen. Patrick Leahy, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, which will review Kagan's record and vote on her nomination, rejected McConnell's assertion that Kagan could not be impartial. "That's sort of grasping at straws," Leahy said after his meeting with the nominee. Leahy added that Kagan impressed him with her legal knowledge and background, and said her lack of judicial experience makes her a better choice for the bench, not a worse one. "I've encouraged many presidents to look outside of the judicial monastery," he said.

But more important to Leahy than Kagan's past is how she will be treated by his committee in the future. "We're going to have a good, clear, fair hearing," he promised.

Leahy's Republican counterpart on the committee, Sessions, agreed that Kagan will get a fair hearing and a confirmation vote before August. But he did not share Leahy's confidence in her ability to do the job.

"My view is that her experience is very thin," Sessions said. "You do not have to be a judge to go on the Supreme Court. I acknowledge that. But I think if you're not a judge, I would like to have seen somebody in the harness of the practice of law for a number of years, who has demonstrated discipline."

Session also voiced his concerns that the Obama administration, possibly including Kagan, had trampled the line separating legal decisions from partisan instincts. "We will need to know if they understand the difference between politics and the law," Sessions said.

McConnell's and Session's approach to Kagan will set the tone for all Republicans, who need to show their supporters they'll vigorously challenge any nominee of President Obama's without seeming to bully a woman -- who would be the fourth in history to join the high court.

Despite Sessions' misgivings about Kagan's experience and approach to the law, he had kind words for her personally. "She's a delightful conversationalist," he said.

While reporters gleaned tidbits about Kagan from the senators' descriptions of her Wednesday (Durbin said she's a Mets fan who's partial to the Red Sox "for balance"), they learned precious little from the nominee herself.

As she crisscrossed the Capitol grounds, shuttling from one senator's office to another, she adhered to the now-established code of silence for Supreme Court nominees, only nodding and smiling as reporters shouted questions like "Why is the left so skeptical of you?"

But by her seventh stop of the day, this one with Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), Kagan had relaxed enough to laugh when asked if anyone had given her lunch ("Yes!") and finally described her impression of the process so far.

"Everybody has treated me very well," she said in the lobby of Kohl's office. Smiling, she added, "That's the most I've said all day."
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