MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
Patrick Leahy, the Democrat of Vermont, is the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and he joins us now to talk about the Kagan hearings. Welcome to the program.
PATRICK LEAHY: Thank you, it's good to be with you.
NORRIS: Thus far, Elena Kagan seems to have had a pretty smooth time in these hearings. She's used humor to great effect. She seems to be rolling with even the toughest of the questions. You stated today that you're pretty confident that Kagan will be confirmed. No worries at all? No speed bumps ahead?
LEAHY: Oh, you always have worries. I'm an old trial lawyer. I never put my verdicts away until after the jury came back, but I think the jury is going to be all right on this one. I can see why her students love her. I could see why they consider her a great teacher.
NORRIS: It feels like I'm back in law school with some of my favorite teachers because she's been asked a whole lot of questions. She's answered them. I - maybe some have disagreed with her answers, but I think she has been more forthcoming than certainly any nominee that I can recall since I've been in the Senate. And that includes nominees of either Republicans or Democrats.
NORRIS: You know, as you well know, not everybody is applauding the hearings or the process. There's been a lot of talk of late that the hearing process simply doesn't tell the American people enough about the judicial nominee even with the candor that you seem to have heard. Do you think the last three days have told us what Americans deserve to know about Elena Kagan beside the fact that she, like Justice Sotomayor or Alito and Roberts before her, has been very, very careful in what she's saying?
LEAHY: Well, I think they have to be careful, but I think that you get is a view of the person. I read some of the articles prior to the hearing and everybody basically saying the same thing: We don't get enough out of these hearings. And some are quoting Elena Kagan's own writings in that regard, but there are many who want to say, well, how will she vote on this issue and this issue and this issue? Well, she can't respond to that.
But you have to make up your mind talking to the person, what level of comfort you have in their abilities and where they might go. But you have to make that determination, and you also have to understand that sometimes justices evolve over time.
For example, she's been nominated to replace John Paul Stevens. He was nominated by a conservative Republican president. He was seen as being a conservative jurist, and he turned out to be a darn good justice. I hate to see him leave. And I have not agreed with every one of his opinions, but, boy, he has been far more of a giant than most people thought when he was first nominated.
NORRIS: Now, where you say that you hear candor some of your Republican colleagues have heard something quite different. They seem to have heard obfuscation or worse. You know, one key issue is Kagan's policy on military recruitment and Senator Sessions, for instance, said that in the end, her statements did not reconcile with the truth. He all but said that she was lying. What do you say to that?
LEAHY: Well, you have some of these senators who have made it very clear they were opposed to her from the beginning, as I told President Obama, when a couple of senators, not Senator Sessions, but a couple of others came out against her almost immediately after she was nominated. If the president had nominated Moses the lawgiver, some of these senators would have been opposed to Moses, and probably the first thing they'd say he can't produce a birth certificate.
But in this case, I think she's been very truthful. In fact, she's told exactly which policy is followed, but the inescapable fact is military recruiting continued on at Harvard while she was there, and it continued after she left. And nobody can escape that fact.
NORRIS: You know, there are facts and then there are labels that sometimes can follow people and when you have a sitting senator, basically, saying that a nominee is lying before the committee. Does that harm her as she goes forward, regardless of what happens with the confirmation?
LEAHY: I suspect that would depend upon the credibility of the senator.
BLOCK: And are you questioning the credibility of Senator Sessions in this case?
LEAHY: No. You asked a broad question, and I responded to it.
NORRIS: Hmm. Does the process, overall, need to be reformed?
LEAHY: I don't know how you'd do it. You know, I've thought about this. I've wrestled with that question for years, and I don't know how to do it better.
NORRIS: No recommendation at all?
LEAHY: Well, only one, that I make to every senator: I say, read every single bit that they've written and that you can about them, listen to the hearings, and ignore those single-issue groups on the far right or the far left. They're not the ones voting.
NORRIS: Senator Leahy, thank you very much for making time for us.
LEAHY: Good to be with you. Thank you.
NORRIS: That's Patrick Leahy, a Democrat of Vermont, who's also the chairman of the Judiciary Committee.