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US Supreme Court Nominee Faces Senate Confirmation Hearing


In final days before the start of Elena Kagan's Supreme Court nominee confirmation hearing, lawmakers and journalists are scouring her record to find indications of what type of judge she might be. The former Harvard Law School dean rarely speaks openly about her views.

Many faculty members at Harvard Law School say they are not surprised about Elena Kagan's nomination to sit on the nation's highest court. Ellen Cosgrove, the school's current dean of students, had this to say about her.

"Rock Star," Cosgrove said.

And Cosgrove isn't the only one singing Kagan's praise. Last week 69 law school deans from around the United States endorsed Kagan's nomination in a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee's Democratic Party chairman and top opposition Republican.

Republican lawmakers say she lacks judicial experience because she has never been a judge, and both sides are unsure of her political leanings.

Former Hunter College High School classmate Leslie Hunter-Gadsen says Kagan always seemed to be a private person.

"It wasn't that you couldn't be friendly with Elena, because we were, but I think she did keep a little of that, her private, inner self," says Hunter-Gadsen.

Kagan's American history teacher at Hunter, Anna Morello agrees. She says Kagan takes after her mother, a long-time teacher at Hunter College Elementary School.

"Her mother was a teacher who one would not hear political issues discussed," Morello said.

Kagan and her two brothers grew up in a middle class neighborhood on Manhattan's Upper West Side. In contrast to her mother's quiet demeanor, her father was an outspoken attorney and activist. Kagan is often called, her father's daughter.

"She questions...She was a questioning person, so one did not get away with anything with her," she adds.

Leslie Hunter-Gadsen recalls Kagan's attempt to change the school's smoking policies.

"She had actually gone to bat with the administration asking if one of the bathrooms could be a smoking bathroom, which is a lot of guts for a high school student," says Hunter-Gadsen.

Kagan continued to speak her mind after high school. As Harvard Law School dean, she opposed on-campus military recruiting because of the U.S. military's policy of barring gays from openly serving in the armed forces. She said the military's ban violated the university's policy against sexual discrimination.

Alexa Shabecoff is the assistant dean for public service at Harvard Law School.

"She was between a rock and a hard place, between upholding the civil rights of the students who are protected by our anti-discrimination policy and obeying the changes in the legislation," Shabecoff said.

Kagan reversed the ban when the military threatened to withhold all federal money from Harvard.

What supporters say most about Kagan is that she is fair-minded. Current Harvard Dean Elena Cosgrove says Kagan brought balance to the school's liberal faculty by hiring more conservative teachers.

Cosgrove says, "She didn't just hire them. She also did things to really encourage the faculty to interact with each another."

Kagan's professional record outside academia also faces scrutiny. Some Democrats are concerned she is too centrist, while conservatives worry her stances on abortion and free speech will lean to the left.

Kagan is currently the Solicitor General of the United States, serving as the government's top lawyer in cases before the Supreme Court.

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