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Leahy: Kagan hearings to start in June

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Patrick Leahy moved quickly Wednesday to advance Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan down a so-far smooth road to confirmation, setting hearings for June 28.

Leahy, D-Vt., said the schedule should allow the hearings to be completed before senators leave for a weeklong break in early July. In announcing it, Leahy was seizing the momentum building behind Kagan’s nomination just over a week after President Barack Obama selected her to succeed retiring Justice John Paul Stevens.

“I would urge everybody to come to the hearing with an open mind, listen to her answers to those questions, and we will make sure that every senator — both sides of the aisle — has ample time to ask the questions they want,” Leahy said.

The Judiciary Committee already sifted through much of Kagan’s record and background for its 2009 hearings on her nomination to be solicitor general, and the 50-year-old former Harvard Law School dean was confirmed then on a bipartisan Senate vote. Leahy said that history, plus Kagan’s lack of experience as a judge — something Republicans have criticized — should make getting ready for these hearings “less labor-intensive.”

The timetable mirrors the one Leahy’s panel followed last year with Obama’s first court choice, Justice Sonia Sotomayor. It would put the Senate on track to meet the president’s goal of installing Kagan on the court by the time its new session begins this fall.

Leahy settled on it over the objections of Republicans, who said they wanted more time to review documents from Kagan’s past, particularly from her years serving in the Clinton White House.

But GOP Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the panel’s ranking member, said his party would “try to do our best to conduct an effective hearing” in the time provided.

“We’ll discuss judicial activism, faithfulness to the Constitution, and I expect it to be a vigorous and important hearing,” Sessions said.

Kagan, 50, stepped aside Monday from her job as solicitor general, in which she represented the Obama administration before the Supreme Court. She was back on Capitol Hill Wednesday for one-on-one meetings with a group of Democratic senators.

Kagan has met with nearly a quarter of the Senate, where Democrats have more than enough votes to confirm her and Republicans have so far shown little inclination to block the move.

The White House on Tuesday sent the Judiciary Committee thousands of pages of Kagan’s speeches and writings, including her work as solicitor general and her articles as an undergraduate staff writer on Princeton University’s campus newspaper.

The papers were a response to a questionnaire sent to Kagan by the judiciary panel, and they emerged as the White House tried to paint a fuller picture of Obama’s nominee, whose thin record of legal writings has left Republicans and even some Democrats suspicious of her views.

Obama’s team on rounded up a group of former aides to then-President Bill Clinton who served with Kagan in the White House to tout her qualifications in a conference call Wednesday with reporters.

Praising her as “wicked smart” and “extremely highly qualified” for the Supreme Court, former White House Chief of Staff John Podesta nonetheless stressed Kagan’s work for Clinton said more about her then-boss’s policy agenda than about hers.

“What she was trying to do was give [Clinton] her best advice about how to move forward and implement an agenda that he had set forward before the American public. … We had our marching orders,” Podesta said.

Podesta wasn’t referring to any specific issue Kagan handled while at the Clinton White House, but she has come under scrutiny by some Democrats for a 1997 memo she wrote urging Clinton to support a ban on late-term abortions except when the physical health of the mother was at risk.

Kagan worked as a domestic policy adviser and associate White House counsel to Clinton. Leahy and Sessions wrote to the Clinton presidential library Tuesday asking for the release of some 160,000 pages of files related to Kagan’s work during that time. The White House has also requested them.