It wasn’t quite a supreme grilling, but some of the Judiciary Committee’s members were surprisingly tough on Solicitor General Elena Kagan this week. Although at first the Republicans spent their time deriding Thurgood Marshall as a so-called “activist judge,” by day three they took up all the hot button social issues they had largely ignored in the first round of questions.
Since Kagan’s testimony is complete — Chairman Pat Leahy told her it was “The last time you’ll ever have to be in a public hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.” — TPM rounded up the toughest questioners. They might just surprise you, since some Democrats gave Kagan as hard a time as their colleagues across the aisle.
1. Sen. Arlen Specter Specter, a Republican turned Democrat and former prosecutor, was among the most severe in his line of questioning this week. TPM readers will remember that Specter (D-PA) voted against Kagan’s confirmation to be solicitor general in winter 2009 when he was still a Republican. Now that he’s lost the Democratic primary and is effectively on his way out, Specter held nothing back this week.
Specter didn’t mask his frustration, telling Kagan he wasn’t getting answers and reminding her that she once decried the hearings as “vapid.” He said, “You haven’t answered much of anything.”
Later, Specter said, “You said all of that yesterday,” interrupting the nominee. Watch:
2. Sen. Tom Coburn Coburn (R-OK) took the most time, going several rounds on social issues and his opposition to the health care reform law.
Coburn pressed Kagan on her view of the interstate commerce clause, and particularly over whether she thought the federal government could mandate the number of vegetables citizens eat each day. Watch:
3. Sen. Orrin Hatch Hatch (R-UT), who voted for Kagan’s solicitor general confirmation, spent most of his time asking the nominee about partial birth abortion and a memo she wrote about it for the Clinton White House. He also pushed her on corporate involvement in elections.
In several tense exchanges, Hatch told Kagan he had to tell her that her memo talking about political implications with regard to abortion “really bothers me.” Watch:
4. (tie) Sen. Russ Feingold and Sen. Dianne Feinstein Feingold (D-WI), a progressive, pushed Kagan on executive power and the court’s campaign finance rulings. He didn’t let up. Feinstein (D-CA) spent a lot of time praising Kagan, but she did push the nominee on detainee rights and guns.
5. Sen. Lindsey Graham Graham seems to be a likely vote for Kagan in the end, but his questioning on military issues, executive power and her own personal politics was relentless.
Here’s an exchange on abortion:
In this exchange, he pushed her on her personal beliefs on the Second Amendment. Watch:
We asked the leading groups on the right and left to weigh in with their take.
Marge Baker, executive vice president of People for the American Way, nominated Sen. Amy Klobuchar for best questioner because of her exchange with Kagan about Chief Justice Roberts’ balls-and-strikes analogy.
“Elena Kagan could have sidestepped that question, but she didn’t. Her answer was so
polite and thoughtful that it was easy to miss the fact that she absolutely eviscerated the metaphor,” Baker said. “Judges need to recognize and apply the values of the Constitution, and that isn’t the kind of job a robot can do.”
Carrie Severino of the conservative Judicial Crisis Network singled out Coburn. “He was able to get Kagan to speak out on topics such as the Declaration of Independence, the limits of government in the Commerce Clause, and gun rights,” she said.
But even after three long days, Kagan seemed to have charmed even her harshest critics. Coburn closed his questioning Wednesday with, “You light up the room.”
Additional reporting by Rachel Slajda, Evan McMorris-Santoro, Justin Elliott and Brian Beutler