When Elena Kagan came before the Senate to be confirmed as Solicitor General, Sen. Arlen Specter — then the senior Republican on the Judiciary Committee — voted against her, saying he didn’t know enough about her “approach to the law and approach to the job of Solicitor General.” Today, however, Specter put out a statement saying that he has an “open mind” about Kagan for the Supreme Court:
There is no doubt that Elena Kagan has exemplary academic and professional credentials. And she has been a pioneer for women, serving as the country’s first female Solicitor General and as the first woman to be Dean of Harvard Law School. I applaud the President for nominating someone who has a varied and diverse background outside the circuit court of appeals.
I voted against her for Solicitor General because she wouldn’t answer basic questions about her standards for handling that job. It is a distinctly different position than that of a Supreme Court Justice.
I have an open mind about her nomination and hope she will address important questions related to her position on matters such as executive power, warrantless wiretapping, a woman’s right to choose, voting rights and congressional power.
The likely reason for Specter’s change of heart is that not only is he now a Democrat, but he’s stuck in a tough primary against Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA), who has picked up significant progressive support and has a slight lead in the polls. Sestak is already hitting Specter for his original vote against Kagan. “I expect Sen. Specter may backtrack from his earlier vote on Ms. Kagan this week in order to help himself in the upcoming primary election, but the people of Pennsylvania have no way of knowing where he will stand after May 18,” said Sestak.
As the National Review explains, “But the political realities for Specter have changed. As Obama campaigns for him and helps him in his fight in an upcoming Democratic primary, it appears to be a safe bet that, in the end, whether a nominee is responsive or not, the Pennsylvania senator will vote ‘aye’ to confirm the president’s choice to fill Stevens’ seat.”
However, some of the seven Republicans who backed Kagan for Solicitor General are now leaning the other way, leaving themselves open to possibly voting against her confirmation. From a statement by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT):
Now that the President has nominated Elena Kagan to replace Justice Stevens, the Senate must thoroughly and fairly evaluate her qualifications to be a Supreme Court Justice. Judicial qualifications go beyond legal experience; any Supreme Court nominee should have an impressive resume. The more important qualification is judicial philosophy and a nominee’s understanding of the power and proper role of a Justice in our system of government.
I will examine Ms. Kagan’s entire record to understand her judicial philosophy. My conclusion will be based on evidence, not blind faith. Her previous confirmation, and my support for her in that position, do not by themselves establish either her qualifications for the Supreme Court or my obligation to support her. I have an open mind and look forward to actively participating in the confirmation process.
Hatch previously called Kagan “brilliant,” but as the Salt Lake Tribune points out, he appears to now be trying to downplay that remark. Sen. Jon Kyl similarly said that “a temporary political appointment is far different than a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.” Maine Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, who also both voted for Kagan, have both put out statements simply stating that they look forward to questioning Kagan. Sens. Tom Coburn (R-OK), Richard Lugar (R-IN), and Judd Gregg (R-NH) have not yet put out statements.