News / USA

Kagan Supreme Court Confirmation Hearings Begin Monday

Senate confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan begin Monday in Washington. Kagan is President Barack Obama's choice to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, the high court's leading liberal thinker.

The nine Supreme Court justices are appointed for life after confirmation by the Senate. But before that can happen, nominees must endure a week's worth of confirmation hearings by the Senate Judiciary Committee, where they are grilled on their views of the law and their personal backgrounds.

President Obama's second pick for the Supreme Court is Elena Kagan, who he sees as a worthy successor to the man stepping down from the high court, retiring Justice John Paul Stevens.

"While we can't presume to replace Justice Stevens' wisdom or experience, I have selected a nominee who I believe embodies that same excellence, independence, integrity and passion for the law," he said.

Stevens is the longest serving member of the current court, having been appointed by President Gerald Ford in 1975. And even though Stevens was appointed by a Republican president, he turned out to be the leader of the court's liberal faction.

Elena Kagan has been serving as the Obama administration's solicitor general, who argues the administration's point of view in cases that go before the Supreme Court.

"I have felt blessed to represent the United States before the Supreme Court, to walk into the highest court in this country when it is deciding its most important cases, cases that have an impact on so many people's lives," said Kagan.

Unlike the other members of the current high court, Kagan has no experience as a judge. However, throughout U.S. history, a number of justices ascended to the high court without having served as judges.

Republicans are expected to ask a lot of questions about her legal views. But the modern history of confirmation hearings is that nominees usually go to great lengths to avoid answering questions about tough issues like abortion, affirmative action and gay marriage.

"I think we would like to know in a real honest sense whether her philosophy of law is so broad in interpretation of the Constitution that you are not faithful to the Constitution and laws," said Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, who is the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Republicans say they will ask Kagan about her tenure as dean of Harvard University Law School in Massachusetts, and in particular her decision to bar military recruiters on campus because of the U.S. military policy of barring gays from openly serving in the armed forces.

Most legal and political experts expect Elena Kagan will be confirmed to the high court since Democrats control 59 of the 100 U.S. Senate seats.

But the hearings can be unpredictable and offer lawmakers and citizens the only chance to screen a nominee prior to a lifetime appointment.

"We believe in the independent life tenure of judges. It is an extraordinary aspect of our system to have independent life tenure," said Walter Dellinger, who served for a time as the U.S. Solicitor General under President Bill Clinton. "Nomination and confirmation is the democratic moment that precedes the independent life tenure of a judge."

A recent Associated Press-GfK poll found that 43 percent of those asked support Kagan's confirmation while 26 percent oppose her. But 63 percent said they had not heard enough about her to form an opinion.

That will be an important backdrop to the hearings, says legal expert Robert Alt of the conservative Heritage Foundation.

"We don't know as much about her," he said. "We don't know as much about how it is that she approaches the law, which is ultimately the big question that everyone wants to know the answer to."

"First of all, she has never been a judge and she doesn't have a huge track record of writings as an academic. And so senators don't have as much to go on to get a feel for what kind of justice she would be," said Rachel Brand, an attorney and a former Justice Department official who used to prepare judicial nominees for the confirmation process under President George W. Bush.

Those who know Kagan emphasize her ability to work well with others and listen to different points of view, skills that can come in handy when serving on the nine-member Supreme Court.

"When you take the court you are basically signing on to a professional family relationship with eight other justices and the ability to listen well and to be patient and to be, you know, a true colleague and trying to find common ground are, I would think, some of the paramount skills you would hope for in a Supreme Court justice, said Seth Waxman who served as solicitor general during the Clinton administration.

The current court is split with four justices generally on the conservative side of the spectrum, four often on the liberal side and one, Justice Anthony Kennedy, considered the swing justice. Kennedy often votes with the four conservatives, meaning the court issues a lot of five to four decisions. If confirmed, Kagan is not expected to alter that balance.

President Obama wants Kagan confirmed so that she can take her seat in October when the next Supreme Court term begins. Kagan would become the third woman on the current court, joining Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who joined the court just last year.

You May Like

UN Ambassador Power Highlights Plight of Women Prisoners

She launches the 'Free the 20' campaign, aimed at profiling women being deprived of their freedom around the world More

Satellite Launch Sparks Spectacular Light Show

A slight delay in a satellite launch lit up the Florida sky early this morning More

Fleeing IS Killings in Syria, Family Reaches Bavaria

Exhausted, scared and under-nourished, Khalil and Maha's tale mirrors those of thousands of refugees from war-torn countries who have left their homes in the hopes of finding a better life More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs