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Elena Kagan: Despite partisan splits, confirmation appears likely

Elena Kagan debate began in the Senate Tuesday. The start of several days of discussion over her nomination to the Supreme Court was marked by partisan divides, but Elena Kagan is expected to easily win confirmation.

By Staff Writer / August 3, 2010

Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan testifies on June 30 before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on her nomination on Capitol Hill.

Alex Brandon/AP

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The US Senate on Tuesday opened debate on the nomination of Elena Kagan to the US Supreme Court, with Democrats praising her intelligence, good humor, and moderate judicial philosophy and Republicans predicting that she’ll use her seat to advance a liberal agenda.

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Although the expected three-day discussion on the Senate floor is intended to examine Ms. Kagan’s suitability for a lifetime appointment to the high court, the senators’ comments Tuesday often reflected a larger debate over the future course of American law – including the constitutionality of President Obama’s health-care reform law.

While Republicans attacked Kagan’s lack of judicial experience and limited experience as a lawyer, Democrats countered by attacking the conservative wing of the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy (D) of Vermont said the court’s conservatives are engaged in an activist campaign to enforce a “radical conservative agenda.”

He warned that if left unchecked, the high court might invalidate a century of legal precedents affirming the power of the national government to “look out for the welfare of the American people.”

“Law matters in people’s lives,” Senator Leahy said. “She understands this.”

“To my mind the president made a wise choice,” Sen. Diane Feinstein (D) of California added.

In preparing for the debate, the Senate Judiciary Committee examined 170,000 pages of documents and questioned the nominee for 18 hours over three days. “What repeatedly emerges from all this is that Elena Kagan is a pragmatist, a problem solver, and a conciliator,” Senator Feinstein said.

Leading the opposition to her confirmation, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R) of Alabama said Kagan had been less than candid in her Senate testimony. At times, he said, “her testimony was more consistent with White House spin than the truth.”

Senator Sessions said Kagan has been described as collegial, engaging, and a consensus-builder. But he said the qualities he considered most important for a judge were discipline, restraint, and rigorous intellectual honesty.

“Americans are sick of political spin by politicians, and they don’t want it from judges,” he said.

Kagan is expected to win relatively easy confirmation. So far, five Republicans have announced that they intend to vote for her and one Democrat has said he will vote against her. The final vote is expected Thursday.

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