The Kagan hearings: what you need to know and what to watch for

Nominee Elena Kagan met with Sen. Al Franken on May 18.
REUTERS/Jim Young
Nominee Elena Kagan met with Sen. Al Franken on May 18.

WASHINGTON — Elena Kagan will take center stage next week, as her confirmation hearings begin Monday.

Four days have been reserved already for the Judiciary Committee hearings, and Democrats are hoping the proceedings will be enough to ensure the necessary votes for committe approval before the July 4 recess. The Democratic leadership’s goal is to wrap up her confirmation by Aug. 6, the last day before the summer recess.

With both Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken on the Judiciary Committee, the hearings will no doubt hold extra interest for Minnesota political watchers. Here’s a guide to what to look for.

Klobuchar and Franken
Minnesota’s two senators are highly likely to back Kagan, but neither officially has yet. Right now, that looks like a distinction without a difference.

Klobuchar spoke with three of her Democratic colleagues on the committee at a press conference aimed at extolling Kagan’s virtues in tones that suggested her confirmation had an air of inevitability to it.

She spoke about the dearth of women on the Supreme Court, just two there now and only three in the Court’s history. She finished her argument with the words “And that’s why it’s so important to add Elena Kagan to the bench.”

Franken said he’d focus his questions on how Kagan “sees the decisions of the Supreme Court affecting the lives of Minnesotans,” echoing a theme of alleged Court corporatism he articulated in great detail during a speech to the American Constitution Society last week and then reiterated on the Senate floor this week.

“The Roberts court has consistently sided with corporate interests at the expense of working people, and that has real-world consequences for Minnesotans. I want to make sure that General Kagan appreciates that the actions of the court matter to all of us.”

Essentially, it would take something approaching a complete meltdown for Klobuchar and Franken not to eventually vote for her.

Other things to look for
In no particular order:

  • Kagan at one point criticized the confirmation hearing process for being a “charade.” Nominees duck and dodge, she charged, intending to be as inoffensive as possible in an effort to glide through on their expected majorities.
  • My guess is that Kagan has around five to 10 votes to work with in her margin.
  • She has been practicing her responses to expected questions for what the AP calls “several grueling hours each day.” If she’s successful, she’ll be that boring, inoffensive person she’d earlier complained about.
  • Arlen Specter, the Pennsylvania Republican-turned-Democrat, voted against Kagan for solicitor general, saying she hadn’t sufficiently answered his questions. This time, Specter, who is no doubt looking for the political wiggle room to vote for her, sent his questions over in advance.
  • From their witness lists, it appears majority Democrats will highlight Kagan’s time as solicitor general and dean of Harvard law, and (as Franken outlined) the effect of cases on the “little guy,” whom Kagan would purportedly stand up for.
  • And from their witness lists, it appears minority Republicans will highlight the military recruitment controversy while Kagan was dean, while saying that her views are outside of the mainstream.
  • Kagan will be introduced by Sens. John Kerry and Scott Brown of Massachusetts. My read on that is that Brown, a Republican, is essentially signaling that he’ll eventually support Kagan. If all 59 Democrats backed Kagan, Brown would be the 60th vote needed to avoid a filibuster.
  • Before the hearings begin, I’d set the over/under on votes that she’ll eventually receive at 64.
  • I’m counting both Franken and Klobuchar as yeses in that tally.

How to follow along
C-SPAN will be showing the hearings live and in their entirety on C-SPAN 3, as well as online at CSPAN.org. The hearings will also be webcast on the Senate Judiciary Committee’s website.

If you’re coming to Washington, prepare to line up early and not see much. Passes will be distributed at the corner of First and C Streets NE, starting at 8 a.m.. Getting a pass, however, doesn’t actually guarantee you’ll get in. The plan is to cycle through attendees on a first-come, first-served basis at “different intervals throughout the day.”

I don’t have to tell frequent readers that MinnPost will be taking a keen interest in the hearings. Media are required to pre-register for the hearings, and MinnPost was the very first outlet to do so.

Which is to say, MinnPost will have comprehensive coverage, both in this space and on Twitter. Follow @dwallbank or click here for that.

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Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 06/26/2010 - 12:07 am.

    I make one prediction. Al Franken will ask some serious questions the other senators missed, probably about the corporate fealty of the the courts, then finish up on mildly humorous note, which is the only part that will get reported. Conservatives will then go on an on about it as if the one witticism was all Franken said. I’d like to be wrong but judging from the Sotomayor hearings, I’m pretty sure.

  2. Submitted by Jerry Clark on 06/26/2010 - 06:55 am.

    Where did the “General” come from anyway. Either a Freudian slip or very sloppy editing. And while editing, consider excluding the “…and more.” How childlike or trite.

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