The Senate hearings for Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan begin
Monday. Here is a primer on how a deeply partisan Senate might
For gravitas and spectacle, few set pieces on Capitol Hill match
a Senate confirmation hearing for a lifetime appointment to the US
Supreme Court. But for Solicitor General Elena Kagan, who faces 19
senators and a wall of cameras on Monday, there's an even more
dramatic element: timing.
Her hearing opens as the Senate is virtually locked down in
partisan gridlock. Members of Congress are fixed on midterm
elections that could flip control in both the House and Senate. And
the current high court, which has outraged the Democratic majority
with several recent rulings, is set to release its final rulings for
the year, also on Monday.
Even before Monday's opening statements or the questioning -
expected to run through Thursday - the political narrative around
the Kagan confirmation is set. For Republicans, it's the threat of
"activist judges" that promote the Obama administration's push
toward big government. Democrats are turning the activist judge
argument on its head, claiming that the current high court is
weighted in favor of conservative activists and corporate power.
IN PICTURES: Supreme Court Justices with no prior judicial
A counterweight to conservatives?
"We saw another troubling example in the narrow 5-to-4 decision
handed down earlier this week in a case called Rent-a-Center v.
Jackson, in which the conservative activists in the majority once
again ruled in favor of big business at the expense of hard-working
Americans," said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D) of Vermont, who chairs the
Senate Judiciary Committee, in a press briefing on June 23.
Just last week, the Democrat-controlled House passed a "fix" to
the Supreme Court's January ruling in Citizens United v. Federal
Election Commission, which struck down limits to corporate campaign
spending. "The decision undermines democracy and empowers the
powerful," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a floor speech before
the vote. Senate majority leader Harry Reid says the Senate will
also take up the issue as a priority.
Political roles for Obama and Clinton
Meanwhile, Republicans are critical of Ms. Kagan's role as
solicitor general. In the Citizen's United case, she argued that a
movie critical of former Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D) of New York
to be broadcast just before the 2008 Democratic presidential primary
should be banned.
In meetings with Republican senators, Kagan reportedly said that
her role as solicitor general was to defend the federal statute. In
response, Republican leader Mitch McConnell said he was less
troubled by Kagan's defense of federal law than the argument she
employed to do it.
"I understand that her office has to defend federal law. …