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Supreme Court confirmations, as Elena Kagan saw them

Elena Kagan once urged aggressive questioning of and candid responses from Supreme Court nominees, but has lately backed off those views. Senate Democrats hail her 'diversity of experience.' Republicans question her qualifications.

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Although she has held two of the highest-profile jobs in American law – US solicitor general and dean of Harvard Law School – she has never worked as a judge and has only limited courtroom experience as a lawyer. Most of her career she’s worked as a law professor or dean. She’s also served as a lawyer in the White House, as a legal adviser in the Senate, and as a judicial law clerk.

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Democrats downplayed her lack of judicial experience. “Elena Kagan’s nomination will bring a diversity of experience missing since Justice [Sandra Day] O’Connor retired in 2006,” said Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy. “I have urged President Obama to look outside the judicial monastery to identify qualified nominees…. Elena Kagan is just such a nominee.”

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell questioned whether Kagan is qualified for the high court job. “One does not need to have prior experience as a judge before being appointed to the country’s highest court,” he said. “But it strikes me that if a nominee does not have judicial experience, they should have substantial litigation experience. Ms. Kagan has neither.”

Sen. Jeff Sessions, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, also questioned Kagan’s experience. “Ms. Kagan’s lack of judicial experience and short time as solicitor general, arguing just six cases before the court, is troubling,” he said.

“The public expects Supreme Court nominees to possess a mastery of the law, a sound judicial philosophy, and a demonstrated dedication to impartial application of the law and the Constitution,” Senator Sessions said. “With no judicial opinions to consider, it will be especially important that other aspects of her record exhibit these characteristics.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, an Independent, said Monday he is more concerned about growing corporate power in the US than Kagan’s lack of judicial experience.

“I understand there has been concern that she never has been a judge,” he said. “I can only say that if the Citizens United [Supreme Court] ruling, which allowed corporate cash to dominate American elections, is what results from a court made up of people who wore robes most of their lives, then Elena Kagan’s experience outside courtrooms should not be held against her.”

IN PICTURES: Justices with no prior judicial experience