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Specter backs Kagan

Arlen Specter, the senior senator from Pennsylvania, opposed Elena Kagan's nomination for solicitor general in 2009, then switched to the Democratic Party. Now he backs Kagan for the Supreme Court. His statement:

There is no doubt that Elena Kagan has exemplary academic and professional credentials. And she has been a pioneer for women, serving as the country’s first female Solicitor General and as the first woman to be Dean of Harvard Law School. I applaud the President for nominating someone who has a varied and diverse background outside the circuit court of appeals. I voted against her for Solicitor General because she wouldn't answer basic questions about her standards for handling that job. It is a distinctly different position than that of a Supreme Court Justice. I have an open mind about her nomination and hope she will address important questions related to her position on matters such as executive power, warrantless wiretapping, a woman’s right to choose, voting rights and congressional power.

Obviously the jobs of solicitor general and Supreme Court justice are massively different, but this really was what Specter said in 2009. From his statement back then:

I have gone to really great lengths to find out about Dean Kagan's approach to the law and approach to the job of Solicitor General and to get some of her ideas on the law because she's in a critical public policy making position. I had the so-called courtesy visit in my office which was extended as the Ranking Member on the Judiciary Committee. We had an extensive hearing where I questioned her at some length. Written questions were submitted and she responded to them. I was not satisfied with the answers which were given and when her name came before the Committee, I passed. That means I didn't say "aye" or "nay." But I wanted to have her nomination reported to the floor so we could proceed, and I wanted an opportunity to talk to her further and did so earlier this month. I wrote her a letter asking her more questions and got some more replies. And I use the word replies carefully, because I didn't get too many answers as to where she stood on some critical issues. After the long process I have described, I still don't know very much about Dean Kagan.

I have no illusion that the issues that I have raised will prevail. I think it is pretty plain that Dean Kagan will be confirmed. But I do not articulate this as a protest vote or a protest position but really one of institutional prerogatives that we ought to know more about these nominees; we ought to take their confirmation process very seriously.

I think we have to pay a little more attention, and I've gone to some length to try to find out more about Dean Kagan. But in the absence of being able to do so and really have a judgment on her qualifications, I'm constrained to vote no.

And here we are. One question that's hard to answer: What role did Specter play in the successful 1999-2000 opposition to Kagan's nomination to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals?

By David Weigel  |  May 10, 2010; 1:33 PM ET
Categories:  Supreme Court  
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