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Obama Supreme Court Pick Appears On Track For Confirmation

  • David Dyar

President Barack Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court, Elena Kagan, appeared on track for Senate confirmation Wednesday as she answered questions during a third day of hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Her nomination as the next Supreme Court justice appeared to be going well Wednesday as she endured a second day of questioning by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Committee Chairman and Democrat Patrick Leahy of Vermont predicted Kagan would eventually be confirmed by the full Senate, and some senior Republicans on the panel indicated that was likely as well, even though a confirmation vote is weeks away.

During Wednesday's session, Kagan was praised by Democrats on the committee and for the most part fended off tough questions from Republicans, who worry that she will bring liberal political views to the high court. Republicans pressed her on a range of divisive legal issues including abortion, gun rights and gay marriage.

President Obama nominated Kagan to replace retired Justice John Paul Stevens, a leading liberal figure on the court for the past three decades. Kagan currently serves as the U.S. Solicitor General and represents the government in cases before the Supreme Court.

Under questioning Wednesday, Kagan again pledged to set aside personal political views in judging cases that will come before the Supreme Court. "The greatness of our judicial system lies in its independence. And that means when you get on the bench, when you put on the robe, your only master is the rule of law. I would, if I am fortunate enough to be confirmed, you know, put on that robe and be independent and not favor any political party," she said.

Some Democrats on the committee have used the hearings to criticize the current court, led by Chief Justice John Roberts, as too conservative. But Kagan declined invitations from committee Democrats to criticize the current court, saying the justices are acting in good faith.

For the second straight day, Republicans asked Kagan whether foreign law should ever be a reference point for American jurists trying to interpret the U.S. Constitution.

Some Republicans strongly oppose the practice of U.S. judges citing foreign law in their decisions. Among them is Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, who asked Kagan for her view.

KYL: Whether you believe that decisions of foreign courts or laws enacted by foreign legislatures should have any bearing on U.S. court interpretation of the U.S. Constitution?
KAGAN: Senator Kyl, I do believe that this is an American Constitution and that one interprets it by looking at the text, the structure, our own history and our own precedents and that foreign law does not have precedential weight.

Kagan added that she believes there is nothing wrong with looking at foreign legal decisions as a source of information or to get a different perspective on legal questions.

As she has all week, Kagan declined to answer numerous other questions on the grounds that they could involve legal issues that she might have to rule on if she is confirmed as a Supreme Court justice.

One area Kagan declined to get into was the issue of gay marriage. Some states have legalized gay marriage and many legal experts believe the issue will eventually go before the Supreme Court.

The issue was raised by Republican Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa.

GRASSLEY: Do you believe that marriage is a question reserved for states to decide?
KAGAN: Senator Grassley, there is of course a case coming down the road and I want to be extremely careful about this question and not to, in any way, prejudge any case that might come before me.
GRASSLEY: That is your right."

If confirmed, Kagan would become the third woman on the current court. Legal experts say her confirmation would not change the current ideological split on the nine-member Supreme Court where conservatives often prevail in five to four decisions.