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. rudy

    She has not practised law, has no judicial experience, she is not answering any substantive questions and dodges all the questions. WHY WOULD ANYBODY VOTE TO COMFIRM HER??????? other than democrats of course.

    June 29, 2010 at 6:53 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Stephen

    She sounds like a great pick and a good civil libertarian. I definitely support her. The "lack of experience" that conservatives are resorting to is kind of funny, really, since they wouldn't care about it if a CEO or some theocrat were nominated and because experience is not the only way to arrive at good judgment.

    June 29, 2010 at 6:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • DocJake

      You're correct that experience is not the only way to achieve good judgment. But it is the lack of record that prevents you from judging her character.

      June 29, 2010 at 6:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • rudy

      Don't be stupid. Get any young lawyer who has not practised and you will find that he knows less than a secretary and less competent that the night cleaning crew. Law schools are there to teatch and explain terminology and where to find the law if you ever understood the problem. Lawyers who focus on issues like a beam are called conservative because they do not bla bla bla with the issues which the domain of the liberals.

      June 29, 2010 at 7:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Stephen

      Jake / Rudy, I disagree because what she's being asked to do is an intellectual exercise for which she has the training. She's a first rate scholar and will employ her academic experience, which is what judges do on benches anyway. At any rate, she is not being asked to build a computer complex or fly an airplane, as someone else suggested.

      June 29, 2010 at 7:20 pm | Report abuse |
  3. BWelter

    I’ve got to go with ‘why’. Putting political ideologies aside for a moment, the irrefutable fact here is this candidate hasn’t sat on a bench – not once. I could have a career in aviation, as a part of my job read all there is to read about being an airline pilot, be very knowledgeable about its systems, and have input on the writing of technical manuals. Then someday, American Airlines says it has an opening for a pilot and asks if I want the left-seat job flying a 747. After getting over my disbelief, and somehow keeping a straight face, I say, ‘absolutely, I am up for the task’ and try to sell it. How would I handle an emergency? "I’ll do what’s been done before, that's for sure. If it hasn’t been done before, I’ll definitely evaluate it on a case by case basis on a most impartial basis. Please, people.

    June 29, 2010 at 6:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Angie

      I personally think her lack of experience on the bench is a positive. She brings a perspective that appears to be lacking in the current group of justices. Some of the best Supreme Court justices had never spent time on the bench prior to being on the SC.

      June 29, 2010 at 7:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • BWelter

      I think most people would agree that a position at the pinacle of a given vocation is, as they say, a plus. When that pinnacle is being one of nine charged to be at the end of the line where interpretation of law is concerned, submitting an inexperienced candidate is difficult to justify. It is hard to comprehend that out of however many judges (seated past and present) throughout this land, that the best candidate for the job is one who hasn't even presided over traffic court. By the way, in the event of a water 'landing', airliner seats still double as floatation devices, right?

      June 29, 2010 at 8:40 pm | Report abuse |
  4. st

    I hope she never ever gets confirmed just another rubber stamp like all Obama's czars wake up people our country is already destroyed and you dont even see it

    June 29, 2010 at 6:56 pm | Report abuse |
  5. evensteven

    If the Republicans don't like her, then she obviously is worth serious consideration.

    June 29, 2010 at 6:56 pm | Report abuse |
  6. chuck

    If Obama nominated Jesus Christ himself, the rebubs would be complaining about how liberal he was. Admit it, it doesn't matter who obama nominates, the repubs are gonna cry. Get over it. He won the election, he gets to choose.

    June 29, 2010 at 6:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • DocJake

      He gets to choose, congress gets to confirm, and we get to vote them out in November.

      June 29, 2010 at 7:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • laurie

      I am not a Republican, I'm a Democrat and I'm still crying over it.

      June 29, 2010 at 7:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Captain Nemo

      Well, He *was* pretty liberal. ;*)

      June 30, 2010 at 7:10 am | Report abuse |
  7. st

    both parties are a failure to the people neither party is worth listening to. Maybe the american people should get to vote on who is in the supreme court since what they do affects our lives. Washington lives in lala land and all the life long politians should be voted out. If all you know about her is what you have read the last few days or heard on the news you have no business having an educated opinion she is a total yes man.

    June 29, 2010 at 7:01 pm | Report abuse |
  8. p

    She will be confirmed, firstly.
    Then I hope she is as liberal as liberal can be. As liberals the day is long. We need to get some balance from the amazing ironic right-wing idealogue activists like Scalia, Thomas (the rubber stamp) Alioto etc.
    They are so narrow-minded and – let's face it – completely out of touch with real life.

    June 29, 2010 at 7:02 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Tekkno

    Listen to all of you...left this, right that...BLAH BLAH BLAH. So tired of looking at boards trying to find intelligent discussion just to come across all this babble. We are one nation. And united we stand, divided we fall. Get over yourselves.

    June 29, 2010 at 7:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • st

      we already have fallen most people just dont see it yet. Huge Defi, Huge Spending, Neither party does anything they say they will, we really dont have the same rights our parents did, no jobs, no manufacturing tell me what is anyone there doing to solve the real problems?

      June 29, 2010 at 7:08 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Eric

    She's going to get in, and I see her for what she's showing America; a case-by-case judge who will make the best decision based on the facts. The fact that she's Jewish should have no bearing whatsoever.

    June 29, 2010 at 7:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • wcl

      Eric – Indeed, the fact that she is Jewish does not have any bearing whatsoever. But the fact that she is not honest, does.

      It is sort of strange by the way that she so supports Obama, he does not come across as a big friend of Jewish people.

      June 30, 2010 at 1:53 am | Report abuse |
  11. evensteven

    People like you are doing far more to destroy our country than Obama ever could. He's our President! Support him! You have a chance to vote for someone else in a few years. Until then, be an American and let Obama do his job. This hateful conservative movement spear-headed by Fox New et al, to demonize and otherwise assassinate the character of and demonize our President is the ugliest, most spiteful, saddest thing I've ever witnessed as an American citizen. When you undermine our President, you undermine our country.

    June 29, 2010 at 7:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Amy

      evensteven – A president who turns around 180 degrees on his own words and promises undermines himself, he does not need anybody else to undermine him. I was not a big fan of Bush and voted for Obama, only to find myself deceived on many issues.

      So yes, I will vote for somebody else in 2012 and no, he is not my president.

      Drug cartels are pouring in and setting up armed posts on our land as we speak, the president is not going to lift his finger to protect us – and you tell me to support this president? Please!!!

      June 29, 2010 at 8:49 pm | Report abuse |
  12. chuck

    "When you undermine our President, you undermine our country."

    Funny isn't it, under 'Dubya' that was all the right wing nutjobs were screaming.
    You'd never hear them say that now though, would you?

    June 29, 2010 at 7:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • evensteven

      I said the same thing regarding "Dubya". Any person who is President deserves to be respected for the office they hold. All this disrespect being shown the Presidency whether it was "Dubya" or Obama is bad for our country. Our democracy can't survive when close to half the people are throwing a perpetual temper-tantrum because they don't agree with the election.

      June 29, 2010 at 7:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Zack

      And funny how all the Bush haters now defend Obama and say "He's the President, support him." Everybody is just so pathetic. Everybody just defends their side and not truly what is best for the country (it's all emotions rather than true thinking)

      June 29, 2010 at 7:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • evensteven

      It's flat out mass-hysteria Zack.

      June 29, 2010 at 7:17 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Hap

    No he doesn't. That is the purpose of these hearings. The Senate gets to either confirm or deny his choice.

    June 29, 2010 at 7:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • chuck

      technically, yes. But all in all, whoever he chooses , will be confirmed unless it is someone so unqualified like the harriet myers debacle. It won't matter how far to the right or left the nominee is, more then likely, who ever the president nominates will get confirmed.

      June 29, 2010 at 7:18 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Joe Sanders

    Why is it that the most important question is being carefully left out due to sensitivity to Israel. She is a stounch Zionist according to her own statements. Can someone ask her a simple question, if U.S. feels that Israel is a liability America's national interest and that Israel must be given a stern warning against the settlements or face the international wrath, what would feel about that? She is strongly in favor or the settlements and strongly in favor of using American troops to protect Israeli interest. In her legal opinion, is it legally acceptable to send American troops to fight Israeli wars for Isreal's interest contrary to America's national interest? She will rule against American interest if the choice is given to chose between USA and Israel. No one is talking about her Zionist's and NeoCon's coaching that she underwent secretly preceding weeks before her hearing. Why it is such a taboo that we overlook America's interest for Israel?

    June 29, 2010 at 7:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • evensteven

      I agree with your points Joe, but very few politicians are willing to stick their neck out on these issues. It's called political survival.

      June 29, 2010 at 7:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Stephen

      Great point, Joe, but I think foreign policy issues probably don't come up a great deal for a justice. Not as much as the more contested social and cultural issues. Still a good point! I would truthfully prefer judges without religious affiliations. But good luck getting that, particularly in the USA where it's all but required.

      June 29, 2010 at 7:25 pm | Report abuse |
  15. lance corporal

    isn't it funny when republicans get frustrated when they game book THEY WROTE is used on them???
    all of bushs conservative nomimies did the SAME THING and watching republicans be soooooooo THEATRICALLY
    surprised and offended by it is just drop dead funny, every republican does this, did cheney for instance ever answer a
    single question put to him directly? at least this woman has SOMETHING to say other than the reagan/cheney "I don't
    recall" "I don't have specific memory of those facts" smirking the whole time, hey repubs what goes around comes around, you always want the other team to play by the rules after you rewrite them to your liking, FUNNY!!!!

    June 29, 2010 at 7:15 pm | Report abuse |
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