When it came time for her to question Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) took on two of the most emotional issues that come before the Court.
Feinstein, a former mayor of San Francisco, first brought up gun rights. She noted that cities in her state are plagued with gun violence, much of it involving innocent bystanders, and she recalled the 1978 killing of San Francisco politician Harvey Milk, whom she found shot to death in Milk’s office.
“I come at the subject of guns a bit differently than most of my colleagues. I think I’ve seen too much,” Feinstein said.
Why, she asked Kagan, should the Supreme Court’s two recent rulings on gun rights be considered settled law if they were both decided 5-4?
“Once the Court decides a case, it becomes binding precedent,” Kagan replied. She added that the Court should overturn precedent only in specific circumstances, and “unless one can point to one of those reasons for reversing a precedent, the operating principle of our legal system is that one respects precedent.”
Feinstein then moved on to abortion, an issue that has long hung over Supreme Court confirmation hearings. Feinstein asked about the Court’s 2007 ruling in Gonzales v. Carhart, in which a 5-4 majority upheld a federal law banning so-called “partial-birth abortion” even though the law did not have an exception if the mother’s life was in danger. Prior rulings required such an exception.
Kagan said the Carhart ruling was specific to the abortion procedure in question at the time. “I think that the continuing holdings of the Court are that a woman’s life and a woman’s health must be protected” in abortion statutes, she said.