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Kagan makes rounds on Capitol Hill

Explains to Brown her position on military recruiters

Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan met with Massachusetts Senator John F. Kerry at his Capitol Hill offices in Washington yesterday. Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan met with Massachusetts Senator John F. Kerry at his Capitol Hill offices in Washington yesterday. (Alex Brandon/ Associated Press)
By Mark Arsenault and Matt Viser
Globe Staff / May 14, 2010

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WASHINGTON — Senator Scott Brown, the Massachusetts Republican, said he was satisfied with the explanation of Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan for why she restricted the access military recruiters had to students when she was dean of Harvard Law School, a policy that has become the basis of some of the sharpest attacks on Kagan’s fitness for the court.

“That was the first question I actually asked her,’’ Brown said after meeting privately with Kagan for 20 minutes. “Being in the military, I had concerns about that position at Harvard. She answered it, I felt, very honestly. And it was very clear to me, after we spoke about it at length, that she is supportive of the men and women who are fighting to protect us, and very supportive of the military as a whole.’’

Brown did not, however, say he was ready yet to support her nomination. Such a vote would be a considerable boost to her confirmation prospects.

Kagan’s decision at Harvard to deny recruiters access to students through official school channels, in response to the prohibition against openly gay military service members, has led some critics to accuse her of an antimilitary bias. Recruiters still had access to students at the time, through a student veterans group, and Kagan’s defenders deny she holds any bias against the military. At least one senator, Republican James Inhofe of Oklahoma, has already announced he will oppose her nomination, in large part due to the restriction on military recruiters.

Brown said he is satisfied with Kagan’s explanation of the matter. “I do not feel that her judicial philosophy will be hurting our men and women who are serving,’’ he said.

Brown said he looks forward to learning more about Kagan.

“Obviously, you can’t do much in a 15, 20 minute meeting,’’ he said. “So I’m going to continue to evaluate and I’m going to reserve my decision until the vote. This is obviously my first [Supreme Court confirmation] process, and I’m looking forward to it being fair and open and respectful. Those are my three top priorities.’’

President Obama on Monday nominated Kagan, 50, the US solicitor general, to replace Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, who is retiring at age 90 after 35 years on the court. If confirmed by a majority of the US Senate, Kagan would bring the number of women serving on the court to three, the most ever.

Kagan is making the rounds on Capitol Hill this week to woo support from key senators, a tradition for high court nominees. She also made a good impression yesterday on Senator Susan Collins, a moderate Republican from Maine, who rejected the suggestion from some critics that Kagan, who has never been a judge, lacks the depth of experience to sit on the nation’s highest court. “I do not believe that her lack of judicial experience in any way disqualifies her,’’ said Collins, as reported by Bloomberg News.

Kagan was a clerk for Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, practiced at a law firm, and served as a lawyer in the Clinton administration. She joined the Harvard faculty in 1999 and became dean of the law school in 2003.

Collins said she did not see any justification for Republicans to filibuster Kagan’s nomination, though she, too, would not commit yesterday to supporting her. Collins will make up her mind after the Judiciary Committee completes confirmation hearings this summer, she said.

Kagan also met yesterday with Massachusetts Senator John F. Kerry, a Democrat, who predicted that she would draw bipartisan support as she did when confirmed as solicitor general. The Senate confirmed Kagan to her current job by a vote of 61-31, with seven Republicans supporting her.

Kerry also defended Kagan on her handling of recruiters.

“As a veteran and a lawmaker who opposed the ban that many Ivy League schools instituted on military recruiting and ROTC programs, when I heard the facts from Elena Kagan I was absolutely reassured of her commitment to those in military service,’’ Kerry said in a statement. “This was evident by the support she personally gave to many military veterans studying at Harvard, veterans who supported her confirmation as solicitor general and now support her confirmation for the Supreme Court.’’