Sen. Leahy signals BP will play central role in Kagan's confirmation hearings

The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico may be an integral part of Elena Kagan's confirmation hearing to the Supreme Court, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) signaled this weekend.

Leahy, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that his committee would put an emphasis on exploring Kagan's views on issues that could impact BP and the oil company's response to a massive spill from pipelines it leases in the Gulf of Mexico.

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The chairman, who will guide the confirmation hearing, pointed to controversial cases slashing a damages award in the 1989 Exxon-Valdez spill incident, an environmental disaster that's now been dwarfed by the Gulf spill.

"Turning back the award in the Exxon-Valdez, I wonder if the Supreme Court would do that today as they watch what's happening in the Gulf," Leahy said on C-SPAN's "Newsmakers" program, to air this weekend.

"It wasn't the liberals who said that Exxon shouldn't have to pay the amount that a jury gave the people of Alaska for their oil spill," the Vermont senator added later, critiquing conservative judges' decisions in some cases.

Confirmation hearings are set to begin June 28th, and Democrats have said they hope to move to confirm Kagan before the Senate breaks for the August recess.

Leahy said a big area for exploration would be the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. FEC, a decision which opened the door for more corporate and labor spending in elections.

"You had British Petroleum, if they wanted, saying some of these members of Congress are too tough on us and asking questions, so we will spend millions of dollars to elect somebody who will say we're doing the right thing," Leahy argued. "Now I don't think that's going to happen, but under what the Supreme Court said, that could happen."

Among other areas of interest for senators, Leahy said, might also be the lawsuits Republican state attorneys general have filed to challenge the healthcare reform law passed by Democrats earlier this year.