Senators query Supreme Court nominee Kagan

Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan is meeting with top senators in both parties Wednesday as she begins courting the votes she'll need to be confirmed.
By Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 12, 2010; 4:40 PM

Senate Republicans pressed Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan Wednesday on her lack of judicial experience and her support for a policy that once banned military recruiters from some college campuses in her first appearance on Capitol Hill since her nomination earlier this week.

Following in the tradition of past Supreme Court nominees, Kagan visited the offices of key senators for private meetings lasting about 30 minutes each. Kagan, the U.S. solicitor general, said almost nothing publicly, ignoring questions shouted at her by reporters as she walked through the halls of Congress with four White House officials in tow.

Most of the five members she has met with so far -- three Democrats and two Republicans -- have said little in detail about their sessions. But Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, which will hold Kagan's nomination hearings, said he aired GOP concerns about her lack of judicial experience.

"She indicated she felt she had the experience to do the job, and she didn't hesitate in that answer," Sessions said after his session with Kagan. If confirmed to replace Justice John Paul Stevens, Kagan would be the only current member of the court who did not previously serve as an appeals court judge.

Sessions also said he remained concerned about Kagan's criticism of the U.S. military's recruitment efforts at Harvard Law School when she was dean. Kagan signed a legal brief, along with numerous other law schools and professors, defending the right of universities to bar recruiters because of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

"That you think you could disagree with a legal policy of the military and that would allow you to in any way inhibit their ability to come to your campus I think indicates some of the dangers of being in the rarefied atmosphere of the academy," Sessions said after the meeting.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) said he was worried Kagan might be a "rubber stamp" for the policies of the Obama administration.

Democrats, as expected, praised Kagan. After meeting with her, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) described Kagan as "the right choice to replace Justice Stevens." He pledged to make her path to the nation's highest court "as smooth as possible."

Kagan's arrival on Wednesday created a familiar spectacle on Capitol Hill. As occurred after the nominations of John G. Roberts Jr. and Sonia Sotomayor, at the start of each meeting, dozens of reporters and photographers entered the suite of the senator hosting the session.

While photographers snapped pictures of Kagan sitting beside the senator, reporters shouted questions. Kagan smiled and bobbed her head occasionally, but never said a word except "thank you" to the senator she was meeting with.

It's not yet clear if Kagan is offering a "repetition of platitudes," the phrase the nominee herself used in a 1995 article to describe how Supreme Court nominees speak to the senators during the confirmation process. Back then, she called for the Senate to explore "the essential rightness -- the legitimacy and the desirability -- of exploring a Supreme Court nominee's set of constitutional views and commitments."

Nominees generally don't answer such pointed questions, arguing that their answers could prejudice them if they heard a potential case.

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