Elena Kagan continued along the path today to confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court, clearing with ease a vote by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Kagan's nomination now heads to the full Senate, where a final vote is likely sometime in the next three weeks.
The Judiciary Committee voted 13-6 to recommend Kagan’s confirmation, as all Democrats supported her and all Republicans but one opposed her. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) was the only committee member to cross party lines — a role he also played a year ago during the confirmation process for Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
During a two-hour debate, senators argued over Kagan’s lack of judicial and litigation experience, her handling of military recruiting while dean of Harvard Law School, and her admiration for the late Justice Thurgood Marshall, for whom she clerked. Democrats also kept up criticism of the Supreme Court’s conservative, five-justice majority.
Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) used particularly strong language in attacking Kagan’s nomination, calling her testimony “disingenuous” and “deceptive.” Kyl noted, for example, that Kagan downplayed a comment she made last year — “There is no federal constitutional right to same-sex marriage” — before the Senate confirmed her as solicitor general.
“My strong sense is that Ms. Kagan was, at the time of her nomination to be solicitor general, trying to create an impression — apparently a false one — that she did not personally believe the Constitution could be read to include a right to same-sex marriage,” Kyl said.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) was among those who praised Kagan’s testimony, including what she called the nominee’s “legal reasoning” and “directness.”
“Her grasp of each area of the law and her ability to reason within it compared favorably with any of the nominees I have seen come before,” said Feinstein, a committee member since Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s hearing in 1993.
Two Democrats, Sens. Herb Kohl (Wis.) and Arlen Specter (Pa.), said that Kagan disappointed them with the substance of their answers, in contrast with a 1995 law review article Kagan wrote criticizing the confirmation process.
“Her opaque and limited answers about who she is and about important issues left us with little insight about what informs her legal judgment and how it could impact close cases,” Kohl said. But, he added, the problem was “inherent in our hearing process” and does not reflect on Kagan personally.
The timing of the committee’s vote keeps Kagan on track for confirmation by the August congressional recess, a goal that Democrats set after President Barack Obama nominated her May 10. The vote came three weeks after Kagan appeared before the committee for two days of questioning.
UPDATE (1:16 p.m.): Obama has released a statement on the committee's Kagan vote, calling it a "bipartisan affirmation of her strong performance during her confirmation hearings." In the statement, Obama also reiterates that Kagan "understands how decisions made by the Court affect the lives of everyday Americans."