Kagan Confirmation Fight Heads To Senate

Now that President Obama has nominated Solicitor General Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, the action moves to the Senate.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

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And I'm Michele Norris.

Today, President Obama chose Elena Kagan to replace retiring Justice John Paul Stevens on the Supreme Court. If confirmed, Kagan will be the youngest justice on the court. She'll also bring the tally of women there to three its highest in the nation's history. Now that President Obama has made his decision, the action moves to the Senate.

NPR's Ari Shapiro reports from the White House on the confirmation fight ahead.

ARI SHAPIRO: In the White House East Room this morning, President Obama stood at the lectern flanked by Vice President Biden and the newest Supreme Court nominee, Elena Kagan. The president returned to a scene he often emphasizes when he talks about judges. The law is not an abstract concept.

President BARACK OBAMA: That understanding of law not as an intellectual exercise or words on a page, but as it affects the lives of ordinary people has animated every step of Elena's career.

SHAPIRO: Then he introduced a second theme: bipartisanship. The president called Kagan a consensus builder and he praised her openness to a broad array of opinions. He referred to her years as Harvard Law School's dean.

Pres. OBAMA: At a time when many believed that the Harvard faculty had gotten a little one-sided in its viewpoint, she sought to recruit prominent conservative scholars and spur a healthy debate on campus.

SHAPIRO: Kagan picked up the thread.

Ms. ELENA KAGAN (Solicitor General, Supreme Court Justice Nominee): I had the privilege of leading one of the world's great law schools and of working there to bring people together and to help ensure that they and the school were making the largest possible contribution to the public good.

SHAPIRO: In the long term, this skill may help Kagan become the kind of consensus builder on the court that retiring Justice John Paul Stevens was. In the short term, the White House's decision to emphasize her bipartisanship reflects an effort to woo Senate Republicans.

Jon Kyl of Arizona was not immediately smitten. He told Fox News the fact that he voted to confirm Kagan to her current post as solicitor general does not mean he'll support her for a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.

Senator JON KYL (Republican, Arizona): She can serve on the Supreme Court for, you know, 30 or 40 years, theoretically. And so it's important for us to have a good understanding of her background that he really didn't delve into so much during the confirmation process as solicitor general.

SHAPIRO: Kyl criticized the fact that Kagan has not been a judge. And he said he's troubled by the lack of a paper trail. Other Senate Republicans echoed those points. The man who will oversee the confirmation hearings is Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont. This morning he pushed back against Republicans' criticism of Kagan.

Senator PATRICK LEAHY (Democrat, Vermont): It's a little ironic if any were to complain that she hasnt been a judge. She was nominated to be a member of the D.C. circuit court and the Republicans pocket filibustered her.

SHAPIRO: Republicans are not openly talking about filibustering Kagan. Manuel Miranda of the conservative Third Branch Conference called talk of filibusters and obstruction just a distraction.

After this morning's White House announcement, I asked President Clinton's former chief of staff John Podesta whether he expects Kagan to get more Republican votes than the nine that Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor received a year ago. Podesta said...

Mr. JOHN PODESTA (Former Chief of Staff, Clinton Administration): She has every opportunity to get a commanding vote in the Senate, but you know the Senate's a quirky place these days.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PODESTA: And partisanship rules up there.

SHAPIRO: So, Podesta said: I've given up on making numerical predictions.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, the White House.

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