A Republican Senator Weighs Kagan's Merits Again Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, opposed Elena Kagan's nomination when she was tapped to be solicitor general. Now that she's the Supreme Court nominee, he's giving her another look. Host Scott Simon talks with Sessions, who reports that Kagan was "engaging and responsive" during their recent meeting.
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A Republican Senator Weighs Kagan's Merits Again

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A Republican Senator Weighs Kagan's Merits Again

A Republican Senator Weighs Kagan's Merits Again

A Republican Senator Weighs Kagan's Merits Again

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Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, opposed Elena Kagan's nomination when she was tapped to be solicitor general. Now that she's the Supreme Court nominee, he's giving her another look. Host Scott Simon talks with Sessions, who reports that Kagan was "engaging and responsive" during their recent meeting.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

President Obama's nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court has been making the rounds on Capitol Hill this week. Elena Kagan has been meeting with the senators who will vote on her nomination. One of those senators is Republican Jeff Sessions of Alabama, who is the ranking Republican of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senator Sessions, thanks very much for being with us.

Senator JEFF SESSIONS (Republican, Alabama): Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: And did you like Elena Kagan?

Sen. SESSIONS: I did. Had an extended conversation, nearly an hour, I think. And she's engaging and responsive and, you know, understands your questions and gives a response that is consistent and communicative of - in a good conversational manner.

SIMON: You inclined to vote for her?

Sen. SESSIONS: Well, I think she should be given every chance to obtain my vote. I did vote against her for solicitor general.

SIMON: Yeah.

Sen. SESSIONS: And I have some questions. But I enjoyed our meeting and intend to look more intently at her record and background. It's an important appointment, a very important appointment. So, I think we'll have to ask some real tough questions because the Supreme Court will be involved in a lot of important cases.

SIMON: Well, what are the questions you have in mind?

Sen. SESSIONS: Well, I think first and foremost, we need to know whether her, you know, political background, which is what shes done most of her life in the public realm, that political background, which is liberal, leftist, whether that would impact her legal decision making. So she's had very little time as a full-time practicing lawyer and no time as a judge. So her background and record and demonstrated ability to set aside personal views is lacking at this point. So, she'll be given a chance to explain that and we'll discuss it.

SIMON: I mean, law professor at University of Chicago and dean of the Harvard Law School, those aren't political jobs, are they?

Sen. SESSIONS: Well, she worked in public jobs, were in the Clinton administration and now in the Obama administration. She's been active politically. She took political positions, at least we know at Harvard. And -but, look, politics does not disqualify.

SIMON: (unintelligible)

Sen. SESSIONS: Not being a judge does not disqualify. The question is, will those views that you have and believe, can you be objective in deciding cases that impact the liberties of the American people?

SIMON: And some people have pointed out this week that Clarence Thomas and the late Chief Justice Renquist also served in Republican administrations.

Sen. SESSIONS: Yes. Chief Justice Renquist was a superb lawyer and had been practiced for quite a number of years. But, no, you're right. I repeat, you don't have to be a judge. You can be involved in politics. But the question, again, is, how can you convince people that when you decide cases, they'll be based on the law and the facts, you're not going to allow your empathy, your politics to influence decision making? American people are worried about that. They think that the government is growing too big. And they, I don't believe, want a judge who is not faithful to the constitutional limits.

SIMON: Is there room on the court, is it even conceivably good for the United States to have an ideological diversity on the court, to have people as outspoken and eloquent as, let's say, Justice Scalia on one side and then people on the other side, including perhaps Elena Kagan?

Sen. SESSIONS: Well, no, none of the judges see the Constitution and law and judging exactly the same, but I do believe any judge that's confirmed should be committed to fundamentally following the document. And you can have a view of activism that allows a judge to consider outside issues that's so strong that pretty soon you're no longer committed to the Constitution and law.

Within a certain realm of issues, judges can disagree and that'll be fine. But we shouldn't confirm somebody who is not fundamentally committed to a faithful and disciplined performance day after day, case after case, regardless of their political or social views.

SIMON: Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, thanks very much.

Sen. SESSIONS: Thank you.

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