Kagan Appears on Pace for June Hearing, August Vote

Posted May 17, 2010 at 6:38pm

Short of a major misstep, Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan appears to be on track to have her confirmation hearings wrapped up before the start of the July Fourth recess.

Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and ranking member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) have not yet discussed a timeline for Kagan’s hearings and don’t plan to announce dates until they receive her answers to their questionnaire later this week. But Leahy has said he hopes Kagan’s nomination can be approved by the full Senate before the August recess.

Completion of Kagan’s questionnaire is a key phase in the process: It helps Judiciary members determine what they will ask Kagan during her hearings and gives Leahy and Sessions a rough idea of how much time they’ll need to prepare for the sessions.

“The committee needs the questionnaire before we can even begin contemplating” exact dates, one Democratic aide said, adding that Leahy could make an announcement about the hearings “shortly after the questionnaire comes out.”

With the Memorial Day recess in less than two weeks and committee rules requiring a one-week notice for a hearing, the earliest Kagan’s hearings could be held would be in early to mid-June.

But Leahy has also said he wants to give Republicans adequate time to review Kagan’s record and that he hopes to follow a timeline similar to that of Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Chief Justice John Roberts. That means the hearings could stretch until the end of the month.

Sotomayor’s hearings began 48 days after Obama announced her nomination. Roberts’ hearings were originally set to kick off 49 days after President George W. Bush nominated him, but they were delayed because of the death of then-Chief Justice William Rehnquist — which prompted Bush to renominate him for the top justice post — and because of Hurricane Katrina.

Sources speculate that Kagan’s hearings could begin June 28, the Monday before the Senate breaks for the weeklong July Fourth break. That should give the Judiciary Committee enough time to complete its vetting, a process that typically lasts two to five days.

Obama nominated Kagan, his solicitor general, to replace retiring Justice John Paul Stevens on May 10.

Senior GOP aides said the timing of the hearings seems reasonable, but they said it will depend on how responsive the White House is to GOP requests for documents and how quickly those materials are made available.

“If we get to the 28th of June and there are reams of unread documents, then yeah, we’ll have a huge problem” with starting the hearings before the July Fourth recess, the aide said.

Indeed, the White House appears to be preparing for Republicans to try to slow down the process through their document demands. On Saturday, the administration formally asked the William J. Clinton Presidential Library to release thousands of pages of paper relating to Kagan’s time in that administration, when she worked as an associate counsel, deputy assistant to the president for domestic policy and deputy director of the Domestic Policy Council.

And on Monday, the White House said it would release Kagan’s undergraduate theses in their entirety.

Meanwhile, Kagan is expected to resume meeting with Senators today, with sit-downs scheduled with Judiciary members Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

Cornyn, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, has been critical of Kagan’s lack of judicial experience and is widely expected to oppose her nomination. Graham, who did not vote on Kagan’s nomination to become solicitor general last year, is one of a handful of Republicans the White House is targeting as a potential “yes” vote.

Given that Kagan, former dean of Harvard Law School, lacks a significant paper trail and has spent little time in the courtroom, her meetings with Senators could go a long way in shoring up support for her confirmation. Every member of the 59-Senator Democratic Conference is expected to vote for her nomination.