Judiciary panel OKs Elena Kagan for Supreme Court
Tue, 20 Jul 2010 10:01:53 GMT — WASHINGTON (AP) " Pushing toward an election-year Supreme Court confirmation vote, a polarized Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday approved Elena Kagan to be the fourth female justice. Just one Republican joined Democrats to approve Kagan's nomination and send it to the full Senate, where she's expected to win confirmation within weeks. "Elena Kagan will be confirmed," predicted Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the Judiciary chairman. "She will go on the U.S. Supreme Court." Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., broke with his party to cast the sole GOP "yes" vote on President Obama's nominee to succeed Justice John Paul Stevens, who retired in June. The vote was 13-6. "What's in Elena Kagan's heart is that of a good person who adopts a philosophy I disagree with," Graham said. "She will serve this nation honorably, and it would not have been someone I would have chosen, but the person who did choose, President Obama, I think chose wisely." At the White House, Obama hailed the vote as a "bipartisan affirmation of her strong performance" in confirmation hearings, and said Kagan would be "a fair and impartial" justice who understands the impact of Supreme Court decisions on everyday people's lives. He called on the Senate to confirm her before Congress takes a monthlong summer break starting August 7 " a deadline Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he looks forward to meeting. Strategists on both sides expect a few more Republicans to back Kagan in the full Senate, where Democrats have more than enough votes to confirm her. Several Republicans believed to be potential supporters of Kagan's said in brief interviews Tuesday that they had yet to decide whether to back her. They include Sens. Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Judd Gregg of New Hampshire and Olympia Snowe of Maine. But Kagan is likely to win fewer GOP supporters than Obama's first high court pick, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in part because of the heightened political pressures facing senators little more than 100 days out from midterm election contests. Most Republicans are against Kagan, arguing that she would put her political views ahead of the law. They point to what they call her liberal agenda and on such issues as abortion and gun rights, and have chastised her for the decision as dean of Harvard Law School to bar military recruiters from the campus career services office because of the policy against openly gay soldiers. "She has deeply held liberal, progressive views," said Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the top Republican on the Judiciary panel. As a justice, he said, Kagan "will not be the objective, impartial arbiter and settler of disputes, but someone who would use the opportunity to redefine words to advance an agenda that's not in the court's role to advance." Democrats praised Kagan, the 50-year-old who has served as the Obama administration's solicitor general, calling her a highly qualified glass ceiling-shattering nominee who could bring consensus to an ideologically divided court. "It becomes more and more apparent that we need a return to the center and a justice who will urge moderation and who will push for consensus. Elena Kagan's record gives me confidence that she could be just such a voice," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. If confirmed, Kagan would be the fourth woman to serve on the court and her swearing-in would mark the first time that three women have served together on the nine-member Supreme Court. The debate over her nomination has unfolded against a highly partisan backdrop, at a time when Republicans are focused on making sharp distinctions between themselves and Obama, whose approval ratings are sagging. "It's a tough political environment out there," noted Graham. Republicans have been quicker to announce their opposition to Kagan than they were last year to Sotomayor. Graham is the only Republican so far to say he'll vote "yes." Democrats attributed the difference to political considerations by the GOP. "Sadly, it appears election-year politics may deprive her of the vote total that her nomination deserves," said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. Politically active conservative groups are pressuring GOP senators to oppose Kagan's nomination. The National Rifle Association is urging a "no" vote or a filibuster to block Kagan outright, saying she's hostile to the 2nd Amendment right to bear arms, and has warned that it will downgrade supporters in candidate ratings that are circulated to millions of gun-owning voters. The Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion rights group, wrote to senators Monday urging opposition based on Kagan's actions as a Clinton administration official to resist a broad ban on a procedure opponents call partial-birth abortion. The group pointed to Kagan's intervention with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in the mid-1990s to prevent the professional group from issuing a flat statement saying the controversial procedure was never medically necessary. Notes and documents released by Clinton's presidential library last month show that Kagan suggested the group qualify that position " which she wrote would be a "disaster " " by saying that the method is sometimes best or most appropriate to preserve the mother's health. "(A) willingness to bend medical facts to support an ideological point of view is inconsistent with the temperament required of a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court," wrote Marjorie Dannenfelser, the group's president. ___ Associated Press Writer Ann Sanner contributed to this report.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Read earlier story below.
WASHINGTON (AP) " Elena Kagan is facing the first vote on her nomination to the Supreme Court before a Senate panel dominated by Democrats who are all but certain to support her. The only real question is whether she will get any Republican votes.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is meeting Tuesday to take up Kagan's nomination after a week's delay at the request of Republican lawmakers. Democrats hold a 12-7 advantage on the committee.
President Barack Obama nominated Kagan, a 50-year-old New York native, to take the seat of Justice John Paul Stevens, who retired in June after more than 34 years on the court. Kagan has served as Obama's top Supreme Court lawyer since last year.
So far, no Democrat has announced opposition to Kagan and no Republican has announced support. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., is considered the most likely Republican on the Judiciary panel to vote for Kagan's confirmation.
Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the senior Republican on the committee, has not yet said how he will vote. But Sessions offered extensive criticism of Kagan on Monday that left little doubt he would oppose her.
"I know that our nominee was articulate and had good humor and many thought she did very well with her testimony. I was not so impressed," Sessions said on the Senate floor. His remarks dealt mainly with Kagan's opposition to the federal "don't ask, don't tell" law on gays in the military.
Democrats hope to confirm Kagan before the Senate's August recess, well in time for the court term that begins in October.
Also Monday, Kagan responded to GOP questions that she would weigh stepping aside from hearing high court challenges to the new health care law on a case-by-case basis.
She was replying to a list of questions from committee Republicans about her involvement as solicitor general in defending the health law.
Kagan, Obama's second Supreme Court nominee, was solicitor general while the health law was being passed and as states sued the federal government in March to challenge its constitutionality.
She told Republicans in written responses to 13 questions that she had no involvement in developing the government's response to the lawsuit and never was asked her views or offered them.
She said she attended at least one meeting where the litigation was briefly mentioned, and the Justice Department filed a number of documents in the case during her tenure, but said she had no firsthand knowledge of any of the filings.
"I never served as counsel of record nor played any substantial role" in the case, Kagan wrote. "Therefore, I would consider recusal on a case-by-case basis, carefully considering any arguments made for recusal and consulting with my colleagues and, if appropriate, with experts on judicial ethics."
Republicans suggested in their questions that any involvement at all with the health care litigation should induce Kagan to recuse herself to avoid any appearance of impropriety.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.