• WisPolitics

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

 1:38 PM 

Feingold, Kohl question Kagan

Wisconsin's U.S. senators, both Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, took their turns questioning Solicitor General Elena Kagan today during as the hearings over her confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court continued into their second day.

Kagan told U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold that her time as a legal counsel in the Clinton administration had nothing to do with what she would do as a judge.

Because Kagan has not served on the bench, Republicans have pored over memos from her time in the Clinton White House for clues on her judicial philosophy as ammunition to criticize her appointment.

Kagan compared her legal work for the president to Chief Justice John Roberts’ work at the Department of Justice in the Bush administration. Kagan said she was simply trying to provide good legal and policy advice to President Clinton.

“One is simply at a different position,” she said of her administration work vs. serving on the bench.

She also told the committee that her work for Clinton gave her an appreciation of the separate branches of government, stressing that courts should police “constitutional boundaries” to ensure lawmakers and the president do not overstep them. But the president and Congress are the ones who should be making policy decisions, and the courts should respect that.

Feingold, of Middleton, also quizzed Kagan on recent 2nd Amendment court decisions, limits on presidential powers and forced arbitration.

He also asked her how she would be able to relate to his constituents in rural Wisconsin considering her big-city, East Coast roots and noted that someone at a town hall meeting in Stevens Point recently asked him why Supreme Court appointees all seem to come from out east.

“Does it count that I lived in Chicago for some period of my life?” she joked.

Kagan added that she has always tried to see past her own background and listen to people from different perspectives.

“This is something not only that makes a good judge, but makes a good human being, is to try to lean from people other than yourself,” Kagan said. “I hope I’ve used the opportunities that my life has provided me to do that.”

Earlier, U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl of Milwaukee used his time to attempt to draw out the issues most important to Kagan as a potential jurist.

"How are you going to make a difference as a Supreme Court justice from any of the others who might be sitting here instead of you today?" Kohl asked.

Kagan said her primary motivation is "the opportunity to safeguard the rule of law, whatever the issues that might come before the court." She cautioned that she could not come to the court, as a legislator might head to Washington, with an emphasis on the environment or the economy.

Kohl pressed on.

"Thurgood Marshall cared passionately about civil rights, Justice Ginsburg had a passion for women's rights, your father had a passion for tenants rights," Kohl said. "I'm sure you're a woman of passion. Where are your passions?"

Kagan again vowed to take her decisions "one case at a time."

Kohl also asked how Kagan, as a justice, would make a difference in the lives of the American public.

Kagan responded that her impact could only be derived from the cases that come before the court, but that she hopes that thinking through the issues of cases "fairly and objectively and impartially" would ultimately improve people's lives.

"That's the entire purpose of law, but this isn't a job I think where somebody should come in with a particular substantive agenda."

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