June 30, 2010 in Nation/World

Kagan deflects GOP questions

David Lightman McClatchy
Associated Press photo

Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., during her confirmation hearing Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
(Full-size photo)

WASHINGTON – A poised Elena Kagan on Tuesday spent the second day of her Supreme Court confirmation hearing fending off Republican efforts to paint her as a liberal activist, saying she’d be a fair, open-minded justice and refusing to call herself a “legal progressive.”

“I honestly don’t know what that label means,” she said.

However, when Kagan was asked later where she stood politically, she said she’d been a Democrat all her life and that “my political views are generally progressive.”

Senate Judiciary Committee members peppered Kagan with a wide range of questions, trying to discern a judicial philosophy and sense her temperament.

Democrats, who control 58 of the Senate’s 100 seats, routinely praised the record of the 50-year-old solicitor general, as well as her performance this week, and predicted confirmation. Republicans vowed to keep firing away at her record and philosophy. The hearings were to continue today.

Lawmakers from both parties asked Kagan, in sometimes scattershot fashion, about the day’s biggest controversies, including abortion rights, campaign finance laws and gun control.

While saying that she would judge cases on their individual merits, she offered some glimpses of her views. When considering abortion rights, Kagan stressed, “the continuing holdings of the court are that the woman’s life and that the woman’s health must be protected.”

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, quizzed her on whether she agreed with the Supreme Court’s recent ruling that corporations and labor unions could spend unlimited sums on political activity, a view that Kagan opposed as solicitor general.

“I did believe we had a strong case to make,” she said.

She left herself room to go both ways when commenting on the Supreme Court’s rulings Monday that put strict state and local gun laws in jeopardy. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., a leading gun-control advocate, asked why the cases suddenly “become settled law.”

“Because the court decided them as they did,” Kagan said. “And once the court has decided a case, it is binding precedent.”

Then again, Kagan said, “there are various reasons why you might overturn a precedent,” including whether it proves unworkable over time.

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