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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Senators to query Kagan, but don't expect answers

WASHINGTON – Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan got a pledge from a key Democrat to help smooth her path to confirmation, while the top Senate Republican said she must prove she wouldn't be a rubber stamp for the White House.

Sitting beside her in his office, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told Kagan he looked forward to making sure her transition from solicitor general to justice was "as smooth as possible."

Their meeting came as Kagan, President Barack Obama's choice to replace retiring Justice John Paul Stevens, kicked off a day of Capitol Hill courtesy calls to court the votes she'll need to be confirmed.

But Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, said Kagan must prove that her current post on Obama's team wouldn't skew her rulings to favor his policies.

"It's my hope that the Obama Administration doesn't think the ideal Supreme Court nominee is someone who would rubber stamp its policies," McConnell said. "Americans want to know that Ms. Kagan will be independent, that she won't prejudge cases based on her personal opinions, that she'll treat every one equally, as the judicial oath requires."

Kagan was to meet next with McConnell, with visits later in the day to Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., top Judiciary Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, and three other top committee members.

But if any of them want to know Kagan's views on hot-button legal issues — like the legality of the White House's new health care law, the constitutionality of gay marriage, or Arizona's new immigration law — they're unlikely to learn much.

If Kagan follows the playbook for nominees, she won't be speaking her mind about legal, political or social issues raised by the senators whose votes she needs for confirmation.

Unless she breaks the traditional silence of other recent Supreme Court nominees — something the nominee herself called for in 1995 — senators will have to vote on elevating Kagan to the nation's highest court without finding out where she really stands on today's touchy topics.

Republicans are warning that a lack of candor could be detrimental to her getting bipartisan approval.

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