June 29th, 2010
04:57 PM ET

What we've learned about Elena Kagan

After a long day of questioning by senators hoping to find out more about Solicitor General Elena Kagan, there's one thing they now know for sure: No matter how they try to get her to discuss her judicial philosophy, there's no hard answer. For Kagan, it's all on a case-by-case basis.

At least, that's the sense Kagan conveyed today over and over again when asked about her political views and how they might influence her role on the Supreme Court.

Asked about issues including abortion, military recruitment, "don't ask, don't tell," executive power and other hot-button issues, Kagan always asserted that the law was the law, precedent was binding, and that's how she'd plan on ruling if any of those issues fell before her if her nomination was confirmed. She often answered questions with phrases indicating she felt she would bring no bias to the bench.

"I think I will take this one case at a time," she said several times. Others times, it came in the form of "I will try to judge each case as it comes."

The remarks were ironic, some congressmen noted, especially for someone who had once before written that the nomination process had become somewhat of a farce with barely any substance. So, she was asked her own question that she said would be fair to ask any nominee: How she felt she might move the institution, politically. Kagan said she expected that she wouldn't, but was pressed further, saying it was a question she herself obviously thought was fair and important.

"It might be a fair question ..." Kagan said, her voice rising, then pausing before it trailed off. It was almost as if she wanted to answer, or couldn't say "but I won't answer it."

Day 2 of questioning: Guns, abortion, jokes

Senators tried several ways to find out where she would fall as a judge - because she has never sat on a judicial bench - asking about her views on other justices, the court's prior rulings and previous precedents. She did answer questions about a military recruitment issue and abortion, and about several other issues in roundabout ways. But she didn't waver much in her answers, though she tried often to invoke some humor in them.

"I would not want to characterize the current court in any way - I hope one day to join it," Kagan said at one point, drawing comical remarks from senators that she may have some politician in her yet.

The hearing also had its contentious moments, including one between Sen. Jeff Sessions and Kagan, regarding her role as a dean at Harvard University and military recruiters being allowed on campus. At one point, Sessions said he thought Kagan was "unconnected to reality" in how she was classifying the situation. The hearing also had a few moments of sparring among committee members: Sen. Orrin Hatch and Sen. Patrick Leahy got into a small debate when Leahy tried to tell his colleague to rephrase his questioning.

But like many other moments during the hearing, the tension was broken with some laughter.

"We have to have a little back and forth every once in a while, or this place would be boring as hell, I'll tell you," Hatch said, laughing. Kagan responded that she was happy it took the spotlight off her for a moment.

"By the way, I've been informed that hell is not boring," Hatch remarked, laughing.

And during a break in the questioning, when not everyone was back in time, Sen. Jon Kyl found a way to invoke some humor himself.

"General Kagan, you can see how important my colleagues think my questions are here," Kyl said, with Leahy, the committee's chairman, chiming in quickly that he was there.

Kagan offered a quick-witted response that perhaps couldn't be more ironic: "Or how important my answers are."

soundoff (315 Responses)
  1. xt

    It's often interesting reading the comments posted on this forum...a lot of the criticisms appear to be far too general to suggest the authors of such posts even took the time to watch the confirmation hearing. Maybe if some of you did you're opinion regarding this nominee would seem more legitimate. It's one thing to dislike Kagan for real reasons...it's a far different thing to simply repeat negativity that you have been told by your friends, news sources, political party, etc.

    June 29, 2010 at 6:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • sara

      I really have learned a lot about her by watching the hearings. I have also learned a lot about the Senators – eye opener. I am starting to think term limits. thank you for your post, I for one appreciate your comments.

      June 29, 2010 at 9:03 pm | Report abuse |
  2. rainier08

    Rid, So...what did you know about John Roberts rulings prior to his confirmation ? it's thoughtless people like you who put us in the place we are now...thanks to the SCOTUS and Roberts whose rulings you know nothing about because there were none...corporations now will own the federal government more than they already do.

    June 29, 2010 at 6:06 pm | Report abuse |
  3. ulysses

    Prior judicial experience is a recent and silly "requirement" for SCOTUS nominees.
    Also, the thing that makes the confirmation process a farce is that the Senators pretend the nomination is supposed to be apolitical when everybody knows it isn't. GWB nominated two right-wing extremists to the bench, including the Chief Justice, and now the pendulum has swung the other way. I only hope Obama has had the sense and nerve to nominate somebody liberal enough to bring some balance back to the court. Apparently a bench full of moderates is too much to ask, so balance is the best we can hope for.

    June 29, 2010 at 6:06 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Amy

    I don't know about you all, but it makes me a bit nervous to have someone who has never made a judgement in a case sitting in the Supreme Court making essentially life or death and setting precedents. How is the Senate to vote yes or no if there isn't any record of her judgement ?

    June 29, 2010 at 6:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • usr001

      If Elena Kagan is making you nervous, the thought of Sarah Palin being in any position of power must throw you into an absolute tizzy.

      June 29, 2010 at 6:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • laurie

      I agree, there is no doubt in my mind that she is highly intelligent, but I don't understand how she can sit on the Supreme Court without any judicial experience whatsoever. But then again, as I said previously, she has done Obama a favor somewhere along the the line and he is repaying her.

      June 29, 2010 at 7:40 pm | Report abuse |
  5. cathyinaz

    She is smart, poised and extremely intelligent or she would not have been appointed Dean of Harvard Law!
    Several outstanding Supreme Court Justices HAD NO JUDICIAL EXPERIENCE before confirmation to the bench and we are exist. She is much more qualified to sit on the bench that Clarence Thomas ever will.
    To Cnorris, ALL potential appointees answer in the same manner or haven't you paid attention!

    June 29, 2010 at 6:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bill

      Shes obiously got more smarts than any one on the panel. I often wander who elected these dorks

      June 29, 2010 at 6:40 pm | Report abuse |
  6. cathyinaz

    Amy,
    Clarence Thomas had little or no judicial experience either and while not a supporter, I never once was nervous that he count not offer an opinion or decide a case. Each case is to be decided on it's merit NOT previous rulings.

    June 29, 2010 at 6:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jim H

      Actually, you can almost always predict the way Thomas votes: just check out the way Scalia votes.

      June 29, 2010 at 6:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Elliott Carlin

      Yeah, I mean, screw precedent.

      June 29, 2010 at 6:52 pm | Report abuse |
  7. bluenote

    At this point, I 'd just like to know why conservatives would even bother reading anything on this site. All you guys do when you read anything that's not to your liking is say how CNN is uber-liberal, and the journalists here don't know what the hell they're talking about. If I felt that way, I would not bother to read anything on the site, or watch the channel on my TV. Here's a big shocker: I watched and listened to, and read enough Glenn Beck to know that he is a lunatic with a geographically large and equally insane agenda. So I don't watch him, except when I want a good laugh at his inane ramblings and conspiracy theories. Sean Hannity and Papa Bear are just as ridiculous, but they're giving the Right what they want: A completely fictional representation of real news that adheres to its' subscribers philosophies. Fox News should call itsef InfoNewsment.

    June 29, 2010 at 6:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • chuck

      no kidding, i bet if you go over to the fox news and goto the discussions, it's all right wing nutjobs having a circle jerk, there's very few comments against what the right wing talking points say. But come over to cnn and the rightwing wackos come from all over just to scream and hollar over how bias CNN is. Get the heck off the site if you don't like it. ya little cry babies!!!

      June 29, 2010 at 6:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • someone with a journalism degree

      Fox should come to terms with reality and drop the "news" part. They've taken the fourth estate and made it a joke. That "company" is nothing more than a mouthpiece for the GOP and a way for the righties to spread their hate. . I'm not saying that CNN (or any of the other "lefty" labeled media outlets for that natter) should be held up on some sort of pedestal, but I do often feel that I see more "unbiased" reporting here. Though, in this country "unbiased" is often confused with boring and lacking "real facts" because we're all so screwed up that if it isn't sensationalist BS that we wholeheartedly agree with then we tend to write it off. We're all at fault people. It's not just the media. Journalists have to live/eat too. Its just a shame that they had to sell out in order to make people listen.

      June 29, 2010 at 7:27 pm | Report abuse |
  8. JSRagman

    For all of the uninformed masses, just remember that Justice Rehnquist was never a judge and he became Chief Justice. Of the 110 justices that have served, 38 of them had never served as judges before being appointed to the bench.

    June 29, 2010 at 6:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • usr001

      Conversely, Taft was a Judge and Political Appointee for his entire career up to the point where he ran for President, the first time he ran for any political office. Yet he was elected, and later became Chief Justice.

      June 29, 2010 at 6:28 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Sue Kephart

    Let her keep talking. It just makes her look more like an idiot.

    June 29, 2010 at 6:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sue Kephart

      Oops I didn't mean Kagen. I thought I was posting on the article about Sarah Palin. I like Kagen. Sorry

      June 29, 2010 at 6:20 pm | Report abuse |
  10. mabel floyd

    she ran circles around her critics in her knowledge of the law and in judicial abilities. sen sessions looked foolish. he just got hotter and hotter as he huffed and puffed trying to trap her and she showed a charming ability to stay focus and answer his questions without rancor.
    that women can take on the "big boys" and come out ahead.
    she will make a great justice.

    June 29, 2010 at 6:20 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Scott

    The current crop of Supreme Court nominees (Soto-mayor, Kagan) shows only one thing: White males need not apply. Your half-black president has no interest in you!

    June 29, 2010 at 6:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dorkus Maximus

      There is no "crop" of nominees. You are trying to generalize from a very small sample. You might as well have said, based on GW Bush's "crop" of nominees, that African Americans or Latinos or Asian Americans or American Indians need not apply. Are you trying to say GW Bush had no interest in African Americans or Asians or Latinos or American Indians?

      June 29, 2010 at 6:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scott

      The first George Bush nominated Clarence Thomas, for cryin' out loud. But with Obama, white men need not submit their resumes, for the Supreme Court at least. Oh and by the way Ronald Reagan nominated the first woman to the Supreme Court. So even as a democrat, I have to say that in recent history (past 30 years) at least the Republicans nominate women/minorities, etc. Obama has NO interest in promoting the interest of white men in American society.

      June 29, 2010 at 6:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • chuck

      LOL, clerence thomas was nothing but a token nominee from the start. If he wasn't black, we'd have never heard his name.

      June 29, 2010 at 6:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Clash1977

      Yeah, white males are entirely underrepresented on the Supreme Court bench- only 106 out of 110 justices! This is an outrage!

      June 29, 2010 at 6:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • iceman

      Even with Justice Stevens' retirement there are 5 white males on the court. That's majority last time I checked.

      June 29, 2010 at 6:42 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Jeff from Ohio

    Kagan has no judicial experience, which is an obvious negative against her. As others have noted, its not a dealbreaker though. Others have been nominated with no previous judicial experience. But, there's no question is IS a negative for Kagan.

    Kagan will be one of the most, if not THE most, liberal members of the court. But, considering Obama is one of the most, if not THE most, liberal President in our nation's history this shouldn't be a surprise. Again, this doesn't disqualify her.

    Elections have consequences and when an ultra liberal candidate is elected President, that President will nominate ultra liberal members to the Supreme Court. The same thing happened with conservatives like Reagan when they were in office.

    Overall, she deserves to be confirmed. She's qualified and her political views, while on the extreme side, aren't so far-feteched as to render her unqualified.

    June 29, 2010 at 6:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dorkus Maximus

      As someone from Ohio, surely you know about the candidacy of Dennis Kucinich. How can you then claim that Obama was an "ultra liberal" candidate? Obama was barely to the left of Hillary Clinton, who was barely to the left of John McCain. The political spectrum is very wide, and modern politicians are for the most part packed very tightly within a narrow range.

      June 29, 2010 at 6:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • CTYank

      "ultra-liberal"? Why do you so judge? Is it maybe because he saw at a glance just how bad a situation he was handed?
      And took decisive action based on competent advice. Not to mention, he didn't "play ostrich" like "W" about the many challenges facing the country.
      I know, you'd have preferred that he took the Herbert Hoover approach, with resulting single term.

      June 29, 2010 at 6:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hawaiikaos

      Obama is barely liberal, if at all. You don't understand the true spread of political philosophy in this country if you think he's ultra-liberal. If he were, DADT would have been repealed in the first few days of his presidency, the war in Afghanistan would be over (we'd have pulled out at least), and BP wouldn't have been allowed anywhere near the oil spill after the rig exploded. Obama is mostly more of the same, though he's a lot smarter and a lot more thoughtful than GWB. On the international diplomacy front he and Clinton have done a lot to repair the reputation of the US, but you would get the same benefit from any intelligent centrist.

      June 29, 2010 at 7:01 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Bobber

    I agree....Confirm! The Republicans are just on display..fluffing their oily feathers for show. I think she should come clean and say she is a wonderful, beautiful, LIBERAL!!!!! It's a positive thing to be a Liberal rather than a Tea-Bagger/Republican. BE PROUD!!!

    June 29, 2010 at 6:24 pm | Report abuse |
  14. relians

    no person should qualify for the supreme court who is a believer of any religion. that would disqualify the person on the grounds of no integrity or intelligence

    June 29, 2010 at 6:25 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Liberal4Obama

    Elena Kagan will cruise to confirmation

    June 29, 2010 at 6:26 pm | Report abuse |
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