The Senate Judiciary Committee today approved the nomination of Elena Kagan to the U.S. Supreme Court, with one Republican breaking ranks to vote yes.
The panel voted 13-6 to send the nomination to the Senate floor. President Barack Obama nominated Kagan, 50, to succeed Justice John Paul Stevens, who retired last month at age 90. Kagan has extensive experience in education policy, both as an academic and dean of Harvard Law School and through work on numerous K-12 issues as a domestic policy aide to President Bill Clinton.
The committee voted along party lines, except for Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, the lone panel Republican to back Kagan.
“She was smart. She was funny. She has an impressive background,” Graham said today in explaining his vote. While he and Kagan may disagree on many political and legal issues, the senator said, he believes the sitting president deserves some latitude in choosing Supreme Court nominees.
“I’m going to vote for her because I believe the last election had consequences,” Graham said, “and this president chose someone who is qualified, ... who is in the mainstream of liberal philosophy and understands the difference between being a judge and a politician.”
Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, criticized Kagan’s handling of military recruiters while she was dean of Harvard Law School, as he had during the nominee’s confirmation hearing in late June.
“As dean of Harvard Law School, Ms. Kagan kicked the military out of the campus recruitment office in violation of the federal law’s equal access requirement,” Sessions said. “Because of her personal opposition to the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ statute, she demeaned and punished the military as our troops were fighting and dying in two wars overseas.”
Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., said Kagan’s responses to questions about the military issue were “ultimately unbelievable.”
“She did not testify meaningfully before the Senate Judiciary Committee,” Kyl said. “She played the game of hide the ball, perhaps more skillfully than those who went before her.”
Democrats on the panel praised Kagan for her intellect, her experience, and for the fact that she does not come from the “judicial monastery,” as Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., the committee’s chairman, put it.
Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., did chide Kagan for giving “opaque answers” that “gave little insight” into her views. “But she is qualified,” Kohl said.
Senate Democrats have expressed hope for a floor vote on Kagan’s nomination before the August recess, with the vote possible during the week of Aug. 2.
A version of this news article first appeared in The School Law Blog.