Kagan Keeps Her Cool on Second Day of Hearings

Posted June 29, 2010 at 6:22pm

The Senate Judiciary Committee wrapped up the second day of hearings on the Supreme Court nomination of Elena Kagan with little in the way of drama.

Unlike last year’s hearings to confirm Sonia Sotomayor to the high court — which were interrupted multiple times by abortion protesters — Kagan’s nomination continued to fly under the radar, with no disruptions despite the gavel-to-gavel television coverage.

Kagan was at ease Tuesday in her interactions with Republicans and the occasional combative Democrat, and the back-and-forth banter largely remained cordial.

Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) was one of the most aggressive questioners, repeatedly interrupting Kagan’s answers when he felt she was drifting too far off topic or was not going to answer.

When Kagan, 50, sought to avoid a direct answer on what deference justices should show Congress, Specter quickly cut her off. “Well, I want to move on,” he said. “If you don’t want to characterize, I want to ask my next question.”

But Kagan was able to charm even the cantankerous Specter. When asked about allowing television cameras in the Supreme Court, Kagan quipped, “It means I’d have to get my hair done more often, Sen. Specter.”

The response, which drew laughs from the committee, temporarily rendered Specter speechless. He quickly recovered with a chuckle. “Let me commend you on that last comment,” he said.

Likewise, as Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) was about to ask how people could trust that Kagan would not bring her political views into the courtroom, he prefaced his comments with, “This is a softball.”

“Promise?” Kagan responded.

“I promise. You’re terrific,” Coburn said, laughing.

To be sure, Kagan did find some hostility on the committee, particularly from ranking member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), who used his question period to hammer Kagan’s views on the military.

Although Kagan repeatedly parried attacks on her decision as dean of Harvard Law School to limit military recruiters’ access to students because of a ban on openly gay men and women in the military, it did little to mollify Sessions.

“I feel like that she was not rigorously accurate in describing the whole nature of this circumstance. And so I’m disappointed in it,” Sessions told reporters Tuesday morning. “There’s not two truths about what happened at Harvard. There’s one, one truth.”

Kagan’s hearing is expected to resume at 9 a.m. Wednesday. At press time it remained unclear whether memorial services for the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) planned for Thursday would affect the committee’s hearing schedule.