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Senate Committee Approves Kagan Nomination
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Senate Committee Approves Kagan Nomination

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 13 to six today to approve Elena Kagan's nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. Kagan is President Obama's second nominee for the high court, and her candidacy gave lawmakers a chance to debate the role of judges in a heated election season, as NPR's Carrie Johnson reports.

CARRIE JOHNSON: Although Elena Kagan endured 17 hours of hearings and answered more than 700 questions, her bid to sit on the Supreme Court never really generated high drama.

As expected, all of the Senate Judiciary Committee's 12 Democrats cast their vote with Kagan. And in the day's only surprise, South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham bucked his party and voted for Kagan, too.

Senator LINDSEY GRAHAM (Republican, South Carolina): No one spent more time trying to beat President Obama than I did, except maybe Senator McCain.

JOHNSON: But Graham said in the end, elections have consequences, and the president had a right to his choice. Graham said the decision to support Kagan wasn't a hard one.

Sen. GRAHAM: Is the person qualified? Is it a person of good character? Are they someone that understands the difference between being a judge and a politician? And quite frankly, I think she's passed all those tests.

JOHNSON: Other Republicans on the committee used their time to raise a few last-minute objections.

First, they say, Kagan lacks traditional experience. For instance, she's never been a judge and didn't work much in private legal practice, either. Here's Alabama Republican Jeff Sessions.

Senator JEFF SESSIONS (Republican, Alabama): When the president nominated Elena Kagan, I expressed my concern with her lack of experience, not simply a lack of judicial experience but a lack of a robust legal experience.

JOHNSON: Sessions said he worried that Kagan couldn't be trusted to put her political views aside because she shaped controversial policies as an adviser in the Clinton White House.

But Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont said Kagan had pledged to follow settled law, even on subjects where she may disagree, like an expansion of gun rights.

Senator PATRICK LEAHY (Democrat, Vermont): She made clear she will base her approach to deciding cases on the law and the Constitution, not politics or an ideological agenda.

JOHNSON: And California Democrat Dianne Feinstein rattled off several reasons why she said Kagan fit the bill for the Supreme Court.

Senator DIANNE FEINSTEIN (Democrat, California): Magna cum laude from Harvard, law clerk to Justice Marshall, a special counsel to this committee, an adviser to the president of the United States, a respected legal scholar and the first woman to be named dean of Harvard Law School and the first woman ever appointed solicitor general of the United States.

JOHNSON: Still, lawmakers from both political parties say they wish they had heard more from Kagan about her approach to the law and what will guide her decisions.

They had some ammunition provided by the nominee herself: A 1995 article in which Kagan urged nominees to share more about their views and blasted high court confirmations as a hollow and vapid charade.

Here's Arizona Republican Jon Kyl.

Senator JON KYL (Republican, Arizona): Ignoring her own advice in the now-famous University of Chicago law review article, she did not testify meaningfully before the Judiciary Committee. She played the same game of hide the ball as those who went before her, albeit with more skill than some.

JOHNSON: Democrats said they hoped Kagan would use her smarts and her sense of humor to build a consensus on a Supreme Court that's divided five to four on campaign finance and other hot-button issues.

A floor vote on Kagan is likely in early August, shortly before the summer recess.

Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington.

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