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GOP Vows Rough Road for Kagan

Bill Clark/Roll Call
Judiciary ranking member Jeff Sessions will lead GOP questioning of Elena Kagan as she tries to sell her nomination for the Supreme Court to the Senate. Republicans don’t plan to make it easy for the solicitor general.

Senate Republicans signaled Monday that Solicitor General Elena Kagan is in for a bumpier ride to the Supreme Court than President Barack Obama’s first nominee, Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

Obama officially nominated Kagan, 50, to replace retiring Justice John Paul Stevens on Monday morning. The announcement, widely rumored for days, unleashed talking points on both sides of the aisle, but Republicans were pointed, accusing the former professor and Harvard Law School dean of being an “East Coast elitist” who lacks critical judicial and real world experience.

A senior GOP leadership aide said bluntly that Republicans aren’t planning a repeat performance of what many viewed as a smooth process for Sotomayor, whom the Senate confirmed to the high court in August on a bipartisan, 68-31 vote. “She’s going to have a much more difficult experience than Sotomayor,” the aide vowed.

“She is a surprising choice from a president who has emphasized the importance of understanding ‘how the world works and how ordinary people live.’ Ms. Kagan has spent her entire professional career in Harvard Square, Hyde Park and the D.C. Beltway,” poked National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas).

“These are not places where one learns ‘how ordinary people live.’ Ms. Kagan is likewise a surprising choice because she lacks judicial experience. Most Americans believe that prior judicial experience is a necessary credential for a Supreme Court justice,” added Cornyn, who sits on the Judiciary Committee, which will vet her nomination.

Likewise, Judiciary ranking member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) accused Kagan of “lack[ing] the depth of experience and practical dealings with issues you’d expect to see in a high office.” He went on to say that “objectively speaking her background is thin.”

“I don’t know how to classify this nominee. I don’t know what her philosophy is. ... I just believe that if you put someone on the Supreme Court they ought to be deeply steeped” in the law, Sessions said.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also took issue with Kagan’s résumé. “The American people also want a nominee with the requisite legal experience. They instinctively know that a lifetime position on the Supreme Court does not lend itself to on-the-job training. Of course, one does not need to have prior experience as a judge before being appointed to the country’s highest court. But it strikes me that if a nominee does not have judicial experience, they should have substantial litigation experience,” McConnell said.

“Ms. Kagan has neither, unlike Chief Justice [William] Rehnquist, for instance, who was in private practice for 16 years prior to his appointment to the Supreme Court,” McConnell added.

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