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Coyle: Kagan’s Confidence, Humor on Display in Senate Hearings

June 29, 2010 at 12:00 AM EST
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JEFFREY BROWN: Judy Woodruff has been anchoring our gavel-to-gavel coverage of the hearings today.

She joins us now from Capitol Hill — Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And I’m here again overlooking the Judiciary Committee hearing room with Marcia Coyle of “The National Law Journal.”

Marcia, this is day two, the question day. The Republicans tried to pin Elena Kagan down on a number of things. And Jeff Sessions, who is the ranking Republican on the committee, went after once again her policy of — at Harvard, while she was dean of the Harvard Law School, of limiting the access that military recruiters had to law students.

How far did he get?

MARCIA COYLE, “The National Law Journal”: Well, I think he may have scored some points, just partly because he was so persistent in trying to make it clear that he believes that she actually violated a congressional statute, the Solomon Amendment.

After a federal appellate court had made a ruling finding that the statute was unconstitutional, Elena Kagan went and returned to Harvard’s prior policy of not granting the military equal access.

She tried to explain that she really wasn’t violating the statute, that she returned to a policy that she believed the Department of Defense had OKed, basically, for a number of years before that court challenge.

JUDY WOODRUFF: It came down to — in part, it came down to deference to a circuit court, an appellate court ruling, that she said was the reason she changed.

Why are they spending time on that issue? And we have heard a number of different issues brought up. Gun rights cases is another one. We have heard several of the Republican senators bring those up. Why are they picking these particular issues?

MARCIA COYLE: Well, I think, basically, they don’t have a whole lot to go on. She’s not been a judge. So, they don’t have cases that they can look at to try to discern how she will be as a Supreme Court justice.

They have found areas that they think will genuinely concern them or that they feel reflect that she may be more activist than she has been portrayed by the administration. And the military recruiting issue is also something that they feel will resound with the public.

The administration, I think, though, has been well-prepared for this. And they have been able to counter. And she’s been able to explain her position, as well as show broad support from military veterans who attended Harvard. And that’s been the case with other issues, too, that the Republicans tried to raise today.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And it’s been Republicans and Democrats, Marcia, who have tried to pin her down on positions that she might take now, take — in a couple of instances, they said what do you think as an ordinary citizen? But, of course, that’s fraught, because she — if she is confirmed, she would be on the Supreme Court.

Overall, I think it’s fair to say she’s done a pretty good job of not getting specific in her answers to those questions.

MARCIA COYLE: Oh, I think so. And I think it’s actually been a pretty good day for her, because she obviously has grown more comfortable as the questions proceeded, comfortable with her ability to answer those questions.

And, also, she’s — you can tell she’s comfortable because she’s injected a lot more humor in the process than we have seen in past confirmation hearings.

In a sense, Judy, she almost reminds me of the hearings somewhat of — for Chief Justice John Roberts, who also came in very confident, was able to talk about the law, and just had a very approachable demeanor. And that’s — that’s how she has been today.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, at this point, late in the day on the second day of hearings, there is only one more Republican at this stage who we will hear from.

So, when they come back for a second round tomorrow, it’s really at this point not clear what they’re going to choose to go back to, what issues to go back to.

MARCIA COYLE: Absolutely.

I think they may try to go back to military recruiting, at least the Republicans will, because that’s where they feel she’s somewhat vulnerable. But we have seen the issues in this hearing are very much the issues that are on the plate of Congress.

The gun issue will continue. It will get to the Supreme Court again, because, even though the court, one, recognized an individual right to have a gun under the Second Amendment, two, yesterday applied that to the states, there’s still going to be a lot of litigation over what kind of gun regulations pass constitutional muster.

And that’s where they were trying to get a sense of where she is. And she did say, yes, it’s settled law. But that’s as far as she can go right now.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And the committee will continue. Today was the second day. Tomorrow, we know that they are going to continue with another round of questions, trying at this point, we think, to wrap it up.

Marcia Coyle with “The National Law Journal,” thank you.

MARCIA COYLE: My pleasure, Judy.