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Kagan faces tough questioning

By EMMARIE HUETTEMAN, MEDILL NEWS SERVICE, Written for UPI   |   June 29, 2010 at 6:37 PM   |   Comments

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WASHINGTON, June 29 (UPI) -- Putting a day of cordial opening statements behind them, lawmakers prodded U.S. Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan with questions about military recruitment, corporate campaign spending and gun rights Tuesday.

U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, spent two-thirds of his allotted time asking Kagan about her actions when, as the dean of Harvard Law School, she limited military recruitment on campus.

Frequently interrupted by Sessions, Kagan said Harvard believed it was in compliance with federal law -- an understanding she said the U.S. Department of Defense reinforced until 2002 -- by barring military recruiters from its career center only. Kagan said the center restricts access if an employer refuses to abide by its anti-discrimination policy, protecting its students.

"I'm just a little taken aback by your remarks because it's unconnected from reality," Sessions said. "I think if you had a complaint, it should have been made to the United States Congress, not to those men and women who we send in harm's way to serve our nation."

Kagan said military recruitment at Harvard actually went up during that time.

The nominee's testimony was marked by pointed exchanges with the senators who were questioning her.

Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, the ranking Republican on the judiciary's subcommittee on antitrust, competition policy and consumer rights, challenged Kagan's opposition to the Citizens United case, which she argued as U.S. solicitor general. The court ruled independent corporate spending in elections constitutional, a decision President Barack Obama criticized as favoring special interests.

"I get a little tired of people on the left saying it was a terrible case, it was wrongly decided, because in Citizens United, the court listed at least 25 precedents dating back almost 75 years," Hatch said.

Democrats also pressed Kagan on the decision. Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., asked Kagan if she found the Citizens United ruling "disrespectful" to Congress and whether she would defer to congressional fact-finding as a judge, growing impatient when she didn't answer his questions directly.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, pushed her to reveal her personal views on whether gun ownership should be an individual right. She referenced the precedent set by the 2008 Heller case, which ruled the Second Amendment is an individual, not collective, right.

"I have absolutely no reason to think that the court's analysis was incorrect in any way," Kagan said.

Throughout Tuesday's round of questioning, during which each committee member was given 30 minutes, Kagan revealed her personality in the occasional witty remark, eliciting laughter from those in the cramped hearing room.

After more than two hours of questions, Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., asked Kagan whether she believed the current court was "too activist."

"Senator Kyl, I would not want to characterize the current court in any way," Kagan said. "I hope to one day join it."

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