As they debate whether to confirm Elena Kagan to the U.S. Supreme Court, senators are once again revisiting whether she has enough legal experience to serve as a justice.
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, ramped up his criticism of Kagan’s experience, saying her relative lack of litigation work affected her testimony at her confirmation hearing.
“I think a real lawyer or experienced judge who had seen the courtroom and the practice of law would not have tried as she did to float their way through a hearing in the manner that she did,” Sessions said in a floor speech this morning. He served as the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Alabama from 1981 to 1993.
“Her testimony,” Sessions added, “failed to evidence an understanding of the gravity of the issues with which she was dealing and the important nature of her role in them.”
Kagan’s experience has tilted heavily toward academic scholarship, administration and government service. Early in her career, she worked two years as a litigator at Washington’s Williams & Connolly. Her other litigation experience has been as solicitor general since March 2009.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said that Kagan’s critics are wrong to discount her experience in government. During four years in the Clinton White House, Kagan was intensely involved in negotiations over issues, such as the regulation of cigarettes, that were closely tied to litigation. She also helped to craft legislation.
“When the justices are called upon to interpret a statute or to determine its constitutionality, it’s essential that they have some appreciation for the process by which that law came to be,” Feinstein said. “Elena Kagan knows the legislative process, and I believe that will serve our nation well.”
Feinstein said she has been taken aback by what she called the strength of Kagan’s record, including tenured professorships at Harvard and the University of Chicago. “An amazing background. I mean, you would think she was 106 instead of a very young woman,” she said. Kagan is 50.