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Smooth sailing

Supreme Court | With Elena Kagan sailing toward confirmation, Democrats launch their own attacks on the Roberts court

WASHINGTON-The president-sometimes termed "no drama Obama"-has chosen a Supreme Court nominee who has excited little drama herself so far.

U.S. Solicitor General Elena Kagan, in her first hearing as a nominee to the high court before the Senate Judiciary Committee, wore an unchanging expression of slight discomfort as senators delivered opening remarks. When she had her chance to make her own statement, she kept it sufficiently scripted.

Thinking on retiring Justice John Paul Stevens whom she would replace, she said, "If confirmed, I hope I will approach each case with his trademark care and consideration. That means listening to each party with a mind as open as his to learning and persuasion and striving as conscientiously as he has to render impartial justice."

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Republicans acknowledged that while Democrats hold a 59-seat majority, she is on her way to confirmation. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, commented, "Something tells me this will be your last confirmation hearing." Still, the top Republican on the committee, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama said, "It's not a coronation but a confirmation process." Sessions brought up a list of Republican criticisms: her lack of experience as a judge or practicing lawyer, her time as a political operative in the Clinton White House, and her clerking for liberal judges like Justice Thurgood Marshall. He also cited her opposition to military recruits while she was dean at Harvard Law School and her admiration for activist Israeli Judge Aharon Barak.

Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., was complimentary of Kagan in his testimony introducing her as one of the senators from the state where she most recently lived. "As an attorney myself, I recognize an impressive legal resume when I see one," he said.

Democrats took the first day of the confirmation hearings to launch their own attacks on the current court under Chief Justice John Roberts as too ideologically driven and "out of the mainstream." Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said he hoped Kagan would create a "moderate majority" on the court. And Democrats repeatedly criticized the court's Citizens United decision, which allows corporations to fund political candidates, as disrespecting campaign finance laws.

Kagan seemed to speak to some of those concerns (though she was not referring to any particular case), saying that the court should be "properly deferential to the decisions of the American people and their elected representatives. . . . The court must recognize the limits on itself and respect the choices made by the American people."

One of her statements about truth would be of concern to Christian readers: "No one has a monopoly on truth or wisdom," she said. "I've learned that we come closest to getting things right when we approach every person and every issue with an open mind."

Today was the time for senators involved in the confirmation process to make opening statements. The senators will begin questioning Kagan tomorrow.

Emily Belz
Emily Belz

Emily, who has covered everything from political infighting to pet salons for The Indianapolis Star, The Hill, and the New York Daily News, reports for WORLD Magazine from New York City. Follow Emily on Twitter @emlybelz.


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