Elena Kagan's nomination hearing began yesterday, although the committee heard relatively little from General Kagan. Twenty-one Senators spoke for approximately three hours total; the nominee made her opening statement in little more than ten minutes. You can read Kagan's statement here, and find links to the Senators' remarks here. (For coverage of yesterday's other Supreme Court news, see Kimberly Harding's post from last night.) As Alec MacGillis and Amy Goldstein note in the Washington Post, "The day was dominated as much by a broad ideological clash between Democrats and Republicans — over judicial restraint and the proper reach of government — as by the woman who would become the 112th justice of the nation’s highest court." For NPR, Carrie Johnson picks out "[t]he question of Kagan’s experience "” she has never before served as a judge" as "among the top issues senators addressed during their opening statements Monday." In the New York Times, Sheryl Gay Stolberg describes Kagan as "cautious and measured in her opening remarks" after she "spent much of the day wearing a furrowed brow, pursed lips and a slightly uncomfortable expression, betraying little emotion as senators either picked apart her credentials or praised her." In the Los Angeles Times, James Oliphant portrays Kagan as "[s]eeking to blunt an impending Republican attack on her fitness for the Supreme Court" in her promise to consider every case "impartially, modestly, with commitment to principle and in accordance to the law." In the Wall Street Journal, Naftali Bendavid and Nathan Koppel also provide coverage, as did Kathy Kiely in USA Today.
Several prominent remarks by General Kagan came not from her statement yesterday, but from an article she authored long ago. As Liz Halloran paints the scene for NPR, "Remember, she was reminded by one senator after another, when you wrote in a book review 15 years ago that Supreme Court confirmation hearings were exercises in "vacuity and farce'?" This morning, Carrie Johnson (also of NPR) recalls that Kagan also called the confirmation hearings "vapid and hollow." Yet Halloran notes that "Kagan seemed unlikely to depart from the hearings-as-usual script she had so harshly criticized." With the question-and-answer sessions beginning today, the Los Angeles Times editorial board provides questions that it would like to hear asked.
Democratic Senators spent much of their time yesterday criticizing Chief Justice Roberts, while the Republicans directed much of their focus elsewhere. As Dana Milbank notes in the Washington Post, "Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee took the unusual approach of attacking Kagan because she admired the late justice Thurgood Marshall, for whom she clerked more than two decades ago." On the Wall Street Journal's Washington Wire blog, Naftali Bendavid calls this "a risky message" but explains that "Republicans have seized on Kagan's clerkship for Marshall as part of their argument that she is a political activist. They are citing that stint along with her service in the Clinton and Obama administrations, her work on Michael Dukakis's presidential campaign, and other jobs in painting a picture of someone who is a proactive liberal." In Slate, Dahlia Lithwick is skeptical of the Republican strategy: "[I]f I were a gambling woman, I’d wager that most Americans today are not seething with unspoken rage at Thurgood Marshall. And I might wonder at the wisdom of blaming him for what ails this country in the summer of 2010." At Talking Points Memo, Christina Bellantoni also examines Justice Marshall's role in yesterday's proceedings.
Notable quotes from the first day of the hearings:
- "I will make no pledges this week other than this one — that if confirmed…. I will listen hard to every party before the court and to each of my colleagues. I will work hard. And I will do my best to consider every case impartially, modestly, with commitment to principle and in accordance with law." (Solicitor General Elena Kagan, New York Times)
- ”There is no basis to question her integrity, and no one should presume that this intelligent woman, who has excelled during every part of her varied and distinguished career, lacks independence.” (Sen. Patrick Leahy, Los Angeles Times)
- “Ms. Kagan has less real legal experience of any nominee in at least 50 years. It’s not just that she has never been a judge. She has barely practiced law, and not with the intensity and duration from which real understanding occurs.” (Sen. Jeff Sessions, Los Angeles Times)
- "We have less evidence about what sort of judge you will be than on any nominee in recent memory. Your judicial philosophy is almost invisible to us." (Sen. Herb Kohl, New York Times)
- “I don’t want to take any suspense out of these proceedings, but things are looking good for your confirmation.” (Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Los Angeles Times)
- Supreme Court confirmation hearings have "the potential to be like eating spaghetti with a spoon "” it's a lot of work, and it's hard to feel satisfied at the end." (Sen. Charles Schumer, New York Times)
- "Liberty is not a cruise ship full of pampered passengers. Liberty is a man of war, and we are all the crew.” (Sen. John Cornyn, Slate)
- Adam Liptak of the New York Times describes the Chief Justice's tributes to the late Martin Ginsburg and to Justice Stevens, and notes Justice Stevens reply: "If I have overstayed my welcome, it is because this is such a unique and wonderful job."
- Michael Wilson of the New York Times attempted to watch yesterday's hearings at the Harvard Club, which bans working reporters.