Kagan hearings open thread: opening statements
We won't see any explosive question-and-answer sessions today, but we will see senators and the nominee establishing the themes that will mark the next few days of hearings. I'll update this post as Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) and Ranking Member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) make their opening statements.
12:31 Everyone's in place; Leahy just gaveled proceedings open
12:32 p.m.: Kagan looks absolutely radiant, as if she's actually looking forward to this!
12:33: Leahy recognizing the service of Sen. Robert Byrd, the West Virginia Democrat who died this morning at age 92.
12:35 p.m. Leahy now back to Kagan, lists her many accomplishment -- Princeton undergrad, Harvard law, Harvard law dean, solicitor general.
12:37 p.m. The first utterance of "judicial activism" comes just a few minutes into the hearing. In this case, Leahy lambastes "conservative" judicial activism. Be prepared to hear these buzzwords from senators from both the right and the left.
12:42 Leahy urges Kagan to be open about how she approaches judging. Kagan, in my opinion, should be more open than most about her "judicial philosophy" because, having never served as a judge before, there is no judicial paper trail from which to assess her approach.
12:44 p.m. Ranking Republican Jeff Sessions of Alabama now gets his 10 minutes for an opening statement. He, too, starts by remembering the late Sen. Byrd.
12:46 p.m. This is not "a coronation," Session says. Kagan has less "real" experience than any nominee in 50 years.
12:47 p.m. Sessions is on a roll, cites Kagan's undergrad thesis on socialism in which he says she "bemoans" the demise of American socialism.
12:48 p.m. Sessions raises gun rights for the first time -- but likely not the last. He notes today's Supreme Court decision extending 2nd Amendment rights nationwide.
12:49 p.m. Sessions blasts Kagan for restricting military recruitment on the Harvard law campus. Expect this to be a running theme throughout the hearings.
12:51 p.m. Here comes judicial activism again, this time from the conservative viewpoint of Sen. Sessions. He talks about Kagan's work for liberal judges and justices, including the late Thurgood Marshall, who use the law to get to desired political goals. This, Sessions, says, worries alot of Americans, especially in a time of expanding federal power.
12:53 p.m. here's something Leahy and Sessions and maybe even Kagan agree on: the need for Kagan to be more open with her thoughts on the law because of the lack of a paper trail....Don't expect much more agreement from these three.
12:57 p.m. Herb Kohl, the Wisconsin Democrat, refers to the impact a Supreme Court justice has on ordinary citizens. This has been and will be a running theme for Democrats. Leahy and several other Dems held a press conference just last week to discuss Supreme Court cases where the court handed down rulings that hurt "the little guy."
12:59 p.m. Kohl gives former Judge Robert Bork a figurative slap. Kohl criticizes Bork's now infamous statement that he wanted to be on the court because it represented an "intellectual feast." This goes hand-in-hand with Kohl's argument that justices must be compassionate and care about the common man....Something tells me that Republicans won't embrace this approach?
1:02 p.m. Utah Republican Orrin Hatch up now....says lack of judicial experience not a disqualifier for Supreme Court experience..Good for Kagan....But there's a "but"....Hatch says previous justice with no judicial experience had extensive legal experience in private practice and in the courtroom....Not so good for Kagan, who worked for only a couple of years in private practice and until last year, when she became solicitor general, had not argued a case in court.
1:05 p.m. Kagan has gone from looking radiant to looking serious and concerend....this is to be expected...I'm sure she's been prepped by her handlers to look at all times like she's taking in every word uttered by a senator and weighing their thoughts carefully..
1:09 p.m. Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California....not surprisingly, Feinstein lauds Kagan for being first woman to lead Harvard Law School and first woman to serve as solicitor general....as for Kagan's lack of judicial experience -- Feinstein finds it "refreshing."
1:12 p.m. I mean no disrespect to the senators, but is this part of the confirmation process really necessary? Do we really need to hear these opening statements? Why not give the chairman, ranking member and the nominee 10 minutes each for opening statement and then move right to questions? I'm just saying.....
1:17 p.m. Chuck Grassley, Republican of Iowa.....A lot of senators do this, but it always amazes me that Grassley seems to be reading his statement for the first time and that he hadn't even bothered to review it before delivering it....Style aside, he's just blasted Kagan for having a "thin record" and being deeply steeped in liberal principles....
1:23 p.m. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) up next....Will he be the first to bring up Kagan's record of taking very, very conservative national security positions in her work as solicitor general?
1:27 p.m. I'm getting worried...Feingold has been a real critic of many of the Bush/Obama national security policies, including wiretapping...but he's spent the first few minutes of his time talking about diversity on the bench....not surprisingly, he's fuming about the Supreme Court's decision to overturn part of the campaign finance law tthat bears his name.
1:31 p.m. Wow, Feingold took a complete pass on national security questions. Wonder if this would have been true if Kagan had been nominated by a Republican?
1:33 p.m. Jon Kyl, Republican of Arizona, takes on Obama (is he the standing for confirmation?) and says flatly the president's desire for judicial nominees with "empathy" is "wrong." . . .
1:35 p.m.: My colleague Stephen Stromberg not-so-unfairly paraphrases Jon Kyl: Whatever criteria the president uses to select court nominees, he’s wrong.
1:38 p.m. Big strike against Kagan, according to Kyl: She's from the Upper West Side of Manhattan....Now, there's a substantive argument.
1:39 p.m. Is it just me or is Kyl especially cranky today? Honestly, is there any need to go through the charade of a hearing when it's already pretty clear how some senators are going to vote?
1:42 p.m. Next up: Arlen Specter, the Republican -- I mean, Democrat -- from Pennsylvannia.
1:45 p.m. Did Kagan just pull a Papa Bush and look at her wristwatch for the time? Not clear, but I wouldn't blame her.
1:48 p.m. Supreme Court nominees are coached not to come across as arrogant or like they think they're smarter than the senators lest they tick off thin-skinned lawmakers. But shouldn't the same courtesy be extended to the nominee? Isn't it cruel and unusual punishment to force a nominee to sit silently while being lectured by those she KNOWS aren't as smart or learned?
1:51 p.m. Interesting...Specter says Kagan told him during their pre-hearing meetings that she favors cameras in the court....Wonder how her prospective and camera-allergic colleagues are taking this...
1:53 p.m. Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina....lauds Kagan for some "good" things she did as solicitor general, including opposing granting terrorism detainees in Afghanistan the right to challenge their detentions in federal court....Will any Democrats take up this line of questioning? Do they also think this was "good"?
1:57 p.m. Graham is about the only senator who I think truly has an open mind. He acknowledged Kagan's stellar intellect, her accomplishments, told her he's concerned about her handling of military recruitment at Harvard but rather than pound the dais to score cheap points he clamly told her he wanted to have a "conversation" with her about this....He's just told Kagan that he thinks she's likely to pass the qualification test, that he looks forward to hearing her address a few concerns about whether she'll be able to keep "activist" impulses in check. And he finished by telling her that it's okay to disagree with "us up here."
2:02 p.m. Chuck Schumer, D-New York. . . oh no....Schumer just began a sentence with "In 1905. . . "
2:04 p.m. Schumer spends a few intense minutes pounding the Roberts court for "bending" the law to achieve ideological goals which, in the process, hurt the common man. So judicial activism is bad and twisting the law is unacceptible? Not quite...He seems to suggest that it's okay as long as he agrees with the desired goals....so much for consistency.
2:11 p.m. John Cornyn, Republican of Texas . . . just started his opening statement by referring to a "man of war." Presumably he was referring to the ship and not to his state of mind...Let's hope so.
2:18 p.m. Dick Durbin, Democrat of Illinois...In speaking about liberties and the expansion of freedom throughout the country's history, Durbin mentions critically the case of Koramatsu, the World War II-era Supreme Court ruling that upheld the government's internment of Japanese Americans. Surely, SURELY, Durbin, who takes pride on being a leader on human rights issues, will mention what he sees as troubling aspects of the Obama administration terrorism and detention policies that Kagan has defended. But no....he moves on . I can only assume that the administration or Democratic leaders in the Senate have been very persuasive in urging Democrats to avoid this subject.
2:25 p.m. Oklahoma Republican Tom Coburn (or, Dr. Coburn, as he's referred to in his Capitol Hill office). . . . Give Coburn credit for speaking from the cuff -- no written statement, perhaps no notes...
2:31 p.m. Leahy has just announced a 10 minute break after Ben Cardin (D-Md.) finishes his statement
2:53 p.m. Just to double back on a point made by Sen. Coburn. He says the issue in these hearings isn't so much Kagan's qualifications -- he suggests that she passes that test -- but whether her judicial philosophy is acceptible. I disagree. Unless a nominees approach to the law is so outside of the mainstream, I think the president deserves significant deference in choosing nominees that reflect his approach and his values. As Lindsey Graham said last year during Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation hearings, elections have consequences.
2:56 p.m. Back live...Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) has the microphone....He also criticizes the Citizens United decision, in which justices struck down part of a massive campaign finance law. I'm not certain, but I think every or nearly every Democrat has brought up this case.
3:03 p.m. it's ever more clear that Democrats are trying to turn the hearings into a platform over corporate profits and corporate irresponsibility (i.e., Wall Street bonuses in the face of financial collapse, BP and the Gulf oil spill)
3:06 p.m. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) gets a chuckle after praising Kagan's skill and courage in managing law professors, whom she said were "fearless in the face of supervision." Klobuchar suggests that Kagan's ability to deal cordially with people of all stripes will be in asset on the court, enabling her to forge coalitions even with those with whom she disagrees....I'm not so sure...I don't think the justices will be so easily swayed by the newbie....There's no lack of confidence (i.e., ego) on the bench.
3:15 p.m. Now up: Ted Kaufman, the Delaware Democrat who took over the seat when Joe Biden was tapped for vice president. Let's see if Kaufman can match his predecessor's penchant for inexplicably long and sometimes weirdly personal outbursts. I bet he can't.
3:21 p.m. Kaufman obviously got the Dem's memo...He rails against a Supreme Court that sides with "business interests" instead of the "people's interest."
3:25 p.m. Kaufman just said what everyone in the hearing room is probably thinking: "Very soon, those of us up here will stop talking. Thank goodness."
3:26 p.m. Al Franken, the former Saturday Night Live cast member and now a Democratic senator from Minnesota, is the last to speak. (He's the junior member on the Democratic side.) Once Franken finishes, Kagan will be sworn in by Leahy and deliver her opening statement.
3:35 p.m. Kudos to Kagan for sitting stone-faced for three hours. If confirmed, she may want to take the same approach during State of the Union addresses. Sam Alito may have a few words of advice on that.. . . .Massachusetts Senators John Kerry (D) and Scott Brown (R) are now introducing Kagan....Kagan will speak in a few minutes.
| June 28, 2010; 12:30 PM ET
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