WASHINGTON – After staying silent in public for seven weeks, former Harvard Law School dean Elena Kagan is expected to make her own case this afternoon for why she’s fit to serve on the United States Supreme Court.
Confirmation hearings for Kagan, whom President Obama nominated to the court in May, begin today on Capitol Hill before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Opening statements are expected this afternoon.
Kagan will be introduced by Democrat John Kerry and Republican Scott Brown. Kerry has already offered support for Kagan and has defended her against critics of her record at Harvard. She has been accused of being anti-military for restricting military recruiters on campus due to the military’s ban on openly gay service members.
Brown has not committed to vote for Kagan, though after a private meeting with the nominee in May he said he was confident she had no anti-military bias.
A solid performance by Kagan during this week’s hearings should assure her confirmation to replace Associate Justice John Paul Stevens, specialists say, given Democrats’ control of 59 Senate seats.
By replacing the liberal Stevens, Kagan is not expected to significantly change the court’s political direction, though, at age 50, Kagan could potentially extend President Obama’s influence on American law for three or four decades.
For Republicans, the hearings are an opportunity to remind social conservatives why they should still be excited to vote for their party in a year in which economic issues have dominated. They likely will question Kagan on social issues, such as abortion and gay marriage.
Democrats may see political advantages by promoting another woman to the Supreme Court, which would bring the roster to three, the most ever.
Kagan’s confirmation will unfold in the Hart Senate Office Building, where Sotomayor was confirmed last year. Putting the questions to Kagan will be seven Republicans and 12 Democrats, led by Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont.
The committee’s one other New Englander is Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse, a former Rhode Island attorney general. Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, a former US attorney, will lead the Republican charge.
The Republicans’ case against Kagan has been slowly coalescing for weeks. They will pursue several angles of attack, beginning with frequent mention that Kagan has never been a judge and has a slim record arguing cases in court. The GOP catch phrase is that Kagan lacks legal experience on both sides of the bench.
This argument, however, was hurt last week by the American Bar Association, which vets judicial nominees. The ABA gave Kagan its highest rating: “well-qualified.”
Viewers of the televised hearings can also expect to hear the phrases “activist judge’’ and “judicial activism’’ many times, as well as competing definitions of those terms, as senators offer differing visions for what makes a good judge.
Republicans – who have not ruled out a filibuster – will seek to define Kagan through her liberal associations and to paint her as an activist who would write new laws from the bench.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.