Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) kicked off Monday’s confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan by highlighting the “historical high-water mark” that she represents: If confirmed, she would bring the number of women on the court to three.
“There have been 111 justices in the Supreme Court of the United States. Only three have been women. If she is confirmed, Solicitor General Kagan will bring the Supreme Court to an historical high-water mark, with three women concurrently serving as justices,” Leahy said.
The Vermont Democrat called attention to other firsts that Kagan has been for women: Last year, she became the first woman to serve as solicitor general, and before that, she was the first woman to serve as the dean of Harvard Law School in the school’s 193-year history.
“Elena Kagan earned her place at the top of the legal profession. Her legal qualifications are unassailable,” he said. “We are a better country for the fact that the path of excellence Elena Kagan has taken in her career is one now open to both men and women.”
Leahy said he planned to ask Kagan about her judicial philosophy but also warned Senators on the committee against trying to “impose an ideological litmus test” on Kagan throughout the hearings.
“I believe that fair-minded people will find her judicial philosophy well within the legal mainstream. I welcome questions to Solicitor General Kagan about judicial independence, but let us be fair. Let us listen to her answers,” he said.
Ranking member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) followed Leahy in delivering his remarks. In them, Sessions appeared to dismiss the relevance of Kagan’s hearings, questioning whether the solicitor general would follow through pledges to be an impartial justice.
“Broad affirmations of fidelity to the law’ during these hearings will not settle the question,” the Alabama Republican said. “One’s record also speaks loudly. Indeed, it is easy to pledge fidelity to a law when you believe you can change its meaning later if you become a judge.”
Sessions also denounced Kagan’s record. In addition to continuing his attacks on her handling of military recruiters while dean of the Harvard Law School, Sessions also accused her of lamenting “socialism’s demise” in New York while supporting “breathtaking” controls on the First Amendment.