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US Senate Prepares for Kagan Hearings

The U.S. Senate is gearing up to consider President Barack Obama's latest choice for a seat on the Supreme Court.  VOA's Paula Wolfson reports from Capitol Hill, Republicans intend to challenge the nomination of Elena Kagan, citing a lack of judicial experience.

Her confirmation hearings may be only weeks away.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy says a schedule will be worked out soon.  The New Hampshire Democrat predicts an efficient process. "We have a pretty good track record with Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Sotomayor," he said.

Appearing on the ABC television network program This Week, Leahy made clear he intends to finish before Congress breaks for a month-long recess in early August. "If we can follow a schedule roughly like that, we can be done this summer," he said.

But the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee indicates the hearings may not go as smoothly as Leahy would like.

Alabama's Jeff Sessions says since Kagan has never been a judge, she has no judicial record for senators to explore.  He told ABC they will have to rely on her testimony at the hearings for clues to the way she will approach the crucial issues that come before the high court. "She has so little other record, this is going to be a big deal.  It is so important how she testifies," he said.

Kagan is currently the Solicitor General of the United States, serving as the government's top lawyer in cases before the Supreme Court.  She is the former dean of the Harvard University Law School, and served in the Clinton administration.

Senator Charles Schumer - a New York Democrat - is one of Kagan's biggest supporters in Congress.   Schumer - a senior member of the Judiciary Committee - told NBC's Meet the Press that she has an extensive written record as a law professor and government official that is being provided to Congress. "She does not have judicial experience," he said, "but she has a lot of practical experience.  She is hardly a 'blank slate.'"

Schumer noted there have been many members of the court in the past who had no prior judicial experience.  But the last one confirmed by Congress was several decades ago.

If Kagan wins senate approval, she will succeed retiring Justice John Paul Stevens, who turned 90 in April.  Although he was nominated by Republican President Gerald Ford in 1975, Stevens has become the leader of the court's liberal wing.

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