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Monday, May 10, 2010

President Obama Names Elena Kagan to SCOTUS; Reactions

This morning, President Barack Obama nominated Solicitor General Elena Kagan to serve as a Justice of the United States Supreme Court to replace Justice John Paul Stevens, who has announced his retirement after almost 35 years on the SCOTUS. Click for a transcript (pdf) of the remarks of the President and Kagan at this morning's announcement in the East Room of the White House, or watch the video above.

In explaining his pick, the President said, in part,

Elena is widely regarded as one of the nation’s foremost legal minds. She’s an acclaimed legal scholar with a rich understanding of constitutional law. She is a former White House aide with a lifelong commitment to public service and a firm grasp of the nexus and boundaries between our three branches of government. She is a trailblazing leader -- the first woman to serve as Dean of Harvard Law School -- and one of the most successful and beloved deans in its history. And she is a superb Solicitor General, our nation’s chief lawyer representing the American people’s interests before the Supreme Court, the first woman in that position as well. And she has won accolades from observers across the ideological spectrum for her well reasoned arguments and commanding presence.

But Elena is respected and admired not just for her intellect and record of achievement, but also for her temperament -- her openness to a broad array of viewpoints; her habit, to borrow a phrase from Justice Stevens, “of understanding before disagreeing”; her fair-mindedness and skill as a consensus-builder.

... During her time in this office, she’s repeatedly defended the rights of shareholders and ordinary citizens against unscrupulous corporations. Last year, in the Citizens United case, she defended bipartisan campaign finance reform against special interests seeking to spend unlimited money to influence our elections. Despite long odds of success, with most legal analysts believing the government was unlikely to prevail in this case, Elena still chose it as her very first case to argue before the Court.

I think that says a great deal not just about Elena’s tenacity, but about her commitment to serving the American people. I think it says a great deal about her commitment to protect our fundamental rights, because in a democracy, powerful interests must not be allowed to drown out the voices of ordinary citizens.

Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) issued a statement today in response to the nomination.

“After closely examining her record, last year I joined a bipartisan group of senators who supported Elena Kagan for the position of Solicitor General. Ms. Kagan has demonstrated sound judgment and exhibited great skill in that key position, as well as in many other challenging jobs she has held. She is also highly regarded in the legal community. I look forward to supporting her nomination,” Bingaman said.

Senator Tom Udall had this to say:

“Elena Kagan is regarded as one of the nation’s leading legal minds. She has proven to be a very able litigator and has received high praise from across the political spectrum throughout her career. I’m pleased that President Obama has selected such a capable, well-regarded candidate and I look forward to learning more about her judicial philosophy as the confirmation process unfolds.”

The 50-year-old Kagan attended Princeton University and Harvard Law School. She has been a legal scholar. Like Chief Justices William Rehnquist and Earl Warren, Kagan has never served as a judge. However, she was nominated by then-President Bill Clinton for federal court; she was never scheduled for a hearing.

Is Kagan a Liberal?
Because Kagan has never been a judge, her views on many significant legal issues have never been made public. Is she a liberal or not? News of her impending nomination prompted a lot of debate on that point, and there's considerable disagreement on just how progressive she is. Democracy Now provides two opposing views on Kagan's political and legal orientation -- from legal blogger Glenn Greenwald and law professor Jamin Raskin -- both progressives.

While serving as Dean of Harvard Law School, Elena Kagan supported a long-standing policy barring military recruiters from campus, because she felt that the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy discriminated against gays and lesbians. However, at her confirmation hearing for Solicitor General, Kagan also drew criticism for arguing that battlefield law, including indefinite detention without a trial, could apply outside of traditional battlefields The New York Times paraphrases Kagan as saying "that someone suspected of helping finance Al Qaeda should be subject to battlefield law—indefinite detention without a trial—even if he were captured in a place like the Philippines rather than a physical battle zone."

As Solicitor General, Kagan argued on behalf of the FEC that the government has a right to regulate the speech of corporations in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. Unfortunately, the SCOTUS ruled to allow corporations to have unlimited "free speech" in supporting candidates.

The SCOTUS Blog provides 9750 words about Kagan and her record. It's well worth a look.

May 10, 2010 at 01:08 PM in Civil Liberties, Corporatism, Justice, Obama Administration, Sen. Jeff Bingaman, Sen. Tom Udall | Permalink