CNN Wire Staff
Leading senators on the Judiciary Committee signaled a contentious hearing starting Monday on Elena Kagan's Supreme Court nomination, with some Republicans saying a GOP filibuster was possible.
Democrats countered that no nominee from President Barack Obama would have satisfied Republicans.
In an exchange on CNN's "State of Union," Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey chided Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas over what Menendez joked were unattainable GOP standards.
Tom Foreman | BIO
Reporter's Note: President Obama has made his pick for the next Supreme Court justice. It’s not me. Which I guess you might have guessed by the fact that I am writing yet another letter to the man in White House. Because, you know…I would have just talked to him at the press conference. Oh well…
Dear Mr. President,
Is it just me or is this whole business of picking a Supreme Court justice a bit more problematic than one might think? Seems like we were being pelted with headlines about all the good and bad of Elena Kagan before you’d even said her name. As best I can make out she is either Mother Teresa reincarnated or the Vampire Lestat, depending on your source.
I don’t think I could take it. I mean, I’m a tough guy and all, but I just wouldn’t want my wife, kids, and the mailman to go through all the turmoil of people plundering our past, writing all sorts of lies about me, or even worse, the truth! Think about all of the things any one of us might have done that would cause shame, or humiliation, or at least rampant blushing if it were made public. For example, all those old student papers you politicos seem to dig up whenever someone gets a date with the hot seat.
I can’t even remember most of the papers I wrote, but like most high school and college kids I had strong opinions on issues which, in retrospect, I didn’t understand. I am reminded of my famous climb to the top of the town water tower where I unfurled a handmade banner protesting the cancellation of Lancelot Link: Secret Chimp. I thought it was an anti-Simian thing, but it turns out the ratings were just bad. Go figure.
And I don’t want to even mention my 3-and-a-half hour hunger strike for the return of the McRib sandwich. (Come to think of it, usually it’s much easier to have fervent views about things you don’t comprehend. Hmm..that may explain some of the behavior I’ve seen around Capitol Hill.)
Roland S. Martin | BIO
CNN Political Analyst
If a white Republican president of the United States appointed a white male as his next Supreme Court justice, and upon the inspection of his record, it was discovered that of the 29 full-time tenured or tenured track faculty he hired as dean of Harvard Law, nearly all of them were white men, this would dominate the headlines.
It would be reasonable to conclude that the special interest groups that vigorously fight for diversity - civil rights organizations, feminist groups and other liberal institutions - would be up in arms, declaring that this person's records showed him unwilling to diversify academia, and unqualified to consider diverse views as one of nine members of the U.S. Supreme Court. There would be widespread condemnations of Republicans having no concern for the nonwhite males in America.
But what if the choice were made by a black Democratic president, and it was a woman? A white woman? A white Democratic woman?
Some of you may not like the fact that I am focusing on the race of the individual, but when diversity is raised, the person's skin color, gender and background are considered germane to the discussion. And if there is silence from black and female organizations, their race and gender matter as well.
We may very well witness this now that President Obama has selected Solicitor General Elena Kagan to replace the retiring Justice John Paul Stevens.
Guy-Uriel Charles, founding director of the Duke Law Center on Law, Race and Politics, has heavily scrutinized Kagan's hiring record as head of Harvard Law School. In a scathing blog post, he has said that of the 29 positions Kagan had a chance to fill, 28 were white and one was Asian-American. And of the group, only six were women - five white and one Asian-American.
Program note: Watch Jeffrey Toobin on AC360° tonight at 10pm ET to hear his thoughts on Supreme Court nominee and former law school classmate, U.S. Solicitor General Elena Kagan.
CNN: What is Elena Kagan's strength?
Jeffrey Toobin: Elena Kagan is known as a consensus builder. During her time as dean of Harvard Law School, she united a deeply divided faculty. Clearly, the hope from the president is that she will do for the Supreme Court what she did for the Harvard faculty, if that's possible.
CNN: You knew her at Harvard. What is she like?
Toobin: Smart, funny, self-confident, extremely intelligent but not obnoxious about it. She's always been a well-grounded person who brings out the best in others around her.
CNN: Some African-American groups and commentators have criticized her appointments at Harvard, charging that almost all of the people she hired were white and of those, only six were women. Could that be a factor in her confirmation?
Toobin: The upper reaches of the legal profession are still dominated by men, so the talent pool still skews that way. Under Kagan, the diversity of the faculty at Harvard changed, but not as fast as the rest of the country.
CNN: How does Elena Kagan stand politically?
Toobin: She's clearly a Democrat with a capital D. She worked for both the Clinton and Obama administrations. What is unclear, however, is her stand on specific social issues that go before the court - affirmative action, abortion, church and state issues. Unlike a sitting judge, she has never been forced to write opinions on those issues, and she has chosen not to write about them as an academic. As far as I know, she has not even talked about her views.
CNN: What do you say to observations that she has never been a judge?
Toobin: Since 2005, every justice for the court has been a former appeals court judge, but that model is relatively new by Supreme Court standards. During the time of Brown v. Board of Education, in 1954, eight of the nine justices had never been judges before. Obama is a president who respects diversity in all areas, including professional background. He said he wanted to break the monopoly of former judges on the court, and this is a first step.
CNN: What lies ahead for confirmation?
Toobin: I think the days of justices being confirmed with more than 90 votes, which happened with Justice Stevens, Justice [Antonin] Scalia, and [Ruth Bader] Ginsburg, are over. But the odds are that she will be confirmed by a comfortable margin. The fact that the Republicans have not been breathing fire from the start suggests they are not looking for a huge fight. Of course, they don't have to make up their minds right away.
CNN: How will the process play out?
Toobin: The hearing will probably be in early July, and the Senate vote soon after. Kagan should be in place well before the first Monday in October. That was how it worked with Justice [Sonia] Sotomayor, and there is no reason to think it will be significantly different this time.
Clearly, President Obama's choice of Solicitor General Elena Kagan for the Supreme Court came as no surprise to many. Reactions flooded my inbox before Obama was even done speaking.
Here are some excerpts – in order that I received them – of statements reacting to Kagan's nomination. Some interesting highlights: Mitch McConnell notes her "brief litigation experience," John Podesta says she'll be "a much-needed progressive voice on a Court dominated by conservatives," and Orrin Hatch says his vote for her to be Solicitor General by no means guarantees his support for her nomination to the bench.
South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, a GOP member of the Judiciary Committee:
"Solicitor General Kagan has a strong academic background in the law. I have been generally pleased with her job performance as Solicitor General, particularly regarding legal issues related to the War on Terror. I look forward to meeting her again, this time to discuss her qualifications to sit on the highest court in the land.
"As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I intend to be fair and firm in my questioning of the nominee. The hearings can be a valuable public service as they give us a window into the nominee's judicial philosophy and disposition. I hope we will have a meaningful opportunity to explore the qualifications, judicial temperament, and judicial philosophy of Ms. Kagan."
Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold, a Democratic member of the Judiciary Committee:
“I congratulate Elena Kagan on her nomination to the United States Supreme Court. I welcome President Obama's decision to nominate someone to be the first Supreme Court justice from outside the judiciary since former Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justice Lewis Powell. Ms. Kagan's confirmation in 2009 as the first woman to become Solicitor General was an historic moment for our nation. As Solicitor General, Ms. Kagan has served the nation ably. Considering the impact the Supreme Court has on our country, I take very seriously my responsibility as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee to evaluate a nominee. I look forward to reviewing thoroughly Ms. Kagan's record, meeting with her and questioning her during what I hope will be a productive and informative confirmation process.”
President Obama has nominated Solicitor General Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, picking her to fill the seat being vacated by retiring Justice John Paul Stevens.
Here is a look at the nation's first woman solicitor general:
Year born: 1960
Hometown: New York (Manhattan)
Experience: Solicitor general; Harvard Law School dean; White House associate counsel
Education: Princeton University; Oxford University; J.D., Harvard Law School
Fun fact: Former law clerk for Justice Thurgood Marshall, who nicknamed her "Shorty"
Top cases argued as solicitor general:
• Campaign finance reform (Citizens United v. FEC, 2009): Congressional efforts to restrict "independent spending" by corporations and unions in federal political campaigns. Supreme Court ruled against the government in January.
• Terror support (Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, 2010): Whether the government's power to criminalize "material support" of a terrorist organization goes too far in restricting civil liberties. Supreme Court ruling pending.
• Religious monuments (Salazar v. Buono, 2009): Can a war memorial shaped like a cross remain on government parkland, or does it violate the constitutional separation of church and state? Justices ruled for the government, saying the cross should remain.