WASHINGTON, June 28 (UPI) -- The Senate Judiciary Committee opened hearings on U.S. Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan by paying tribute to Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., who died Monday.
"No senator came to care more about the Constitution and be a more effective defender of our constitutional government than the senior senator from West Virginia," committee Chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont said. "In many ways, he was the keeper of the Senate flame, the fiercest defender of the Senate's constitutional role and prerogatives.
Holding up a copy of the U.S. Constitution, Leahy of Vermont said, "The difference between him holding it up and any one of us holding it up, he could put it back in his pocket and recite it verbatim, the whole Constitution."
Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., the committee's ranking Republican, and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, agreed with Leahy about Byrd's love of the Constitution.
"He loved our country. He loved clarity of thought and we surely will miss him," the Alabama Republican said.
"Senator Byrd was a towering presence in the Senate for decades and his love for the Constitution and for this legislative body was well-known. He stood up for it all the time," Hatch said, noting that they may not have agreed on issues all of the time but "I had nothing but great respect for him."
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said it was apropos, in a way, for the Judiciary Committee to be considering Kagan's nomination to replace retiring Justice John Paul Stevens.
"Senator Byrd's fierce devotion to the Constitution hovers over this hearing," Schumer said, "and nothing could be more appropriate on the sad day of his death than holding this hearing, where the first branch of government gives advice and consent to the second branch of government as we fill a position on the third."