US Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan (photo) has vowed to judge with "even-handedness" at her first confirmation hearing on Monday. Kagan is expected to become the fourth woman in history to sit on the country’s highest court.
AFP - US Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, expected to become the fourth woman ever to sit on the history-shaping bench, vowed at her first confirmation hearing Monday to judge with "even-handedness."
"I will do my best to consider every case impartially, modestly, with commitment to principle, and in accordance with law," Kagan said in her prepared opening statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Amid simmering "war on terrorism" debates on balancing security and liberty, Kagan said the highest US court's job was to ensure "that our government never oversteps its proper bounds or violates the rights of individuals."
"But the court must also recognize the limits on itself and respect the choices made by the American people," said Kagan, who as US solicitor general has represented President Barack Obama's administration before the justices.
Bolstered by a private morning pep-talk with Obama in his Oval Office, Kagan sat quietly, sometimes with a slightly pained expression, as Republican members of the committee assailed her decades as a Democratic legal adviser.
The committee's top Republican, Jeff Sessions, noted that Kagan would be the first non-judge to reach the summit of US justice and charged her "career has been consumed more by politics than law. This worries many Americans."
Sessions seized on Kagan's move, as dean of elite Harvard Law School, to restrict military recruiters' access to students and charged: "Her actions punished the military and demeaned our soldiers."
Kagan, 50, was expected barring a dramatic development to win confirmation as one of the nine judges whose rulings on divisive issues including abortion, gun rights, and racial segregation have shaped the very fabric of US society.
"Something tells me this is likely to be your last confirmation hearing," Republican Senator Orrin Hatch said shortly after proceedings opened in the crowded committee room.
Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, the panel's chairman, declared Kagan's legal qualifications "unassailable" and said "there is no basis to question her integrity."
And Kagan struck a preemptive blow at Republican objections in her prepared opening statement, vowing to live up to the motto engraved in marble above the court's door: "Equal Justice Under Law."
"What this commands of judges is even-handedness and impartiality. What it promises is nothing less than a fair shake for every American," she said.
Naming US Supreme Court justices ranks among the most consequential powers of the US presidency, as a judge's lifetime tenure typically stretches well beyond the influence of the temporary occupant of the White House.
The justices serve as the final arbiters of the US Constitution, setting precedents for the entire US judicial system and adjudicating bitter political disputes in often narrow 5-4 rulings that can take a lifetime to reverse.
Some of their most controversial recent decisions have included the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion in the United States and the Bush v. Gore decision that ended the disputed 2000 election in George W. Bush's favor.
Looming November mid-term elections have fueled bitter political tensions in the high-stakes battle over Kagan, who would be the youngest justice, and Republicans have refused to rule out trying to block a confirmation vote.
Democrats and their two independent allies control 58 Senate seats, well over the 50 needed to confirm Kagan, but shy of the 60 votes needed to end debate and proceed to a final confirmation ballot.
Obama, who has dismissed the case against her as "pretty thin gruel," met with Kagan Monday morning to "offer his encouragement and wish her good luck," said a White House official.
The White House and its Democratic allies have said they would like to see Kagan confirmed as liberal standard bearer John Paul Stevens's replacement before the month-long August recess, in time for the court's fall session.
Kagan -- who received the American Bar Association's highest rating of unanimously well qualified for the court -- would be the second justice named by Obama after Sonia Sotomayor, the first Hispanic to reach the bench.
A 1981 graduate of Princeton University, Kagan completed her studies at Harvard in 1986. She clerked for Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall before entering private practice from 1989 to 1991.
She and Obama both taught law in Chicago, and Kagan worked in former US president Bill Clinton's administration.
Date created : 2010-06-28