Leahy In Spotlight As Kagan Hearing Gets Underway

06/28/10 5:50PM By Bob Kinzel
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AP Photo/Susan Walsh

(Host) Senator Patrick Leahy is once again in the national spotlight as the chairman of the Senate Judiciary committee.

The panel has just opened its confirmation hearings for U.S. Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan.

VPR's Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Leahy has been a member of the Senate Judiciary committee since 1979 and has played an important role in the confirmation process of every sitting member of the U.S. Supreme Court.

This is the second straight summer that he's chaired a hearing for one of President Obama's Supreme Court nominees - in 2009, the Senate gave its approval to Sonia Sotomayor.

Leahy says he has several goals for the Kagan hearings:

(Leahy) "I want to make sure we have a fair and we have a thorough hearing. I want the American people to know who Elena Kagan is... and I want to make sure the Senate has all the facts they need."

(Kinzel) Leahy says it can be hard to get a nominee to reveal a great deal about their own legal philosophy.  He says he hopes the nominee will give truthful answers - that's something Leahy says didn't happen when Chief Justice John Roberts came before his committee in 2005:

(Leahy) "I do want some honesty from the nominee. I was disappointed when John Roberts said he saw his role as an umpire - somebody to call balls and strikes. Well, he's been calling them like the umpire we saw a few weeks ago who spoiled a perfect game by saying somebody was safe when they were obviously out. He's done a lot more than call balls and strikes."

(Kinzel) In the end, Leahy says sometimes senators have to trust their gut instincts about a nominee:

(Leahy) "I think you have to ask questions as specifically as you can, but then it's also partly a leap of faith. I voted for John Paul Stevens, who's stepping down now. He's a lot different person than he was at the time I voted for him. I had to make a judgment that he would grow in the job - some seem to shrink in the job, he grew in the job."

(Kinzel) The lead Republican on the Judiciary committee, Alabama senator Jeff Sessions, says Kagan "has less experience than any other judge in the last 50 years and that most of her work has been political work."

Leahy says he thinks it's an asset that Kagan hasn't served previously as a judge:

(Leahy) "I think the attacks against her are unfair...let's give her a fair chance. This is a very, very good nominee. She should be confirmed and she will be confirmed."

(Kinzel) Leahy says he's hopeful that the full Senate will vote on the Kagan nomination before the end of July.

For VPR News, I'm Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

Click here for more Elena Kagan hearing coverage.

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