Kagan nomination approved by Senate judiciary panel

By Paul Kane
Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Tuesday to approve Elena Kagan's nomination to the Supreme Court, clearing a key hurdle on her path to winning confirmation as just the fourth woman to serve on the high court.

Voting largely along party lines, 13 to 6, the committee sent her nomination to the full Senate for consideration this month or in early August. Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), who voted last year for President Obama's nomination of Justice Sonia Sotomayor, was again the only Republican on the panel to support the nominee.

"I think there's a good reason for a conservative to vote yes," Graham told his colleagues. He added that Kagan was "smart . . . and she's funny; that goes a long way in my book."

In a more-than-two-hour meeting, committee Democrats and Republicans revisited many of the themes from the marathon hearings held in late June with Kagan, the solicitor general. Republicans questioned her credentials and her lack of experience as a federal judge, and cited her decision, while dean of Harvard Law School, to briefly bar military recruiters from the campus of one of the nation's top law schools.

Democrats countered that Kagan's legal background matched many past and current justices and defended her Harvard position by saying she was trying to walk the line of supporting the military and the university's prohibition on discrimination in light of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy toward gays in the military.

Much of the debate, however, focused not on her background but on the confirmation process that the committee employs for Supreme Court nominees. Kagan came under bipartisan condemnation for what the senators described as her "opaque and limited answers" and her game of "hide the ball," the latest venting by a Judiciary Committee that is increasingly frustrated by its own system for vetting the nation's most important judges.

Kagan's approach to the hearings has been the norm since the 1987 nomination of conservative jurist Robert Bork turned into a high-profile battle over the nominee's writings and rulings.

The full Senate is expected to take up Kagan's nomination after an energy legislation debate that should begin next week. A confirmation vote is likely in the first week of August.

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