Kagan begins winning over swing votes on second day on Hill

Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan began winning over Senate centrists during her second day on Capitol Hill meeting with lawmakers.

Three pivotal centrists, Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Scott Brown (R-Mass.) and Arlen Specter (D-Pa.), gave Kagan positive reviews after meeting with her privately.

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Collins praised Kagan as “extremely bright” and someone who has “thought deeply about the issues.”

Collins, a member of the Gang of 14, which set the Senate standard for filibustering judicial nominees, said she did not see any reason to block Kagan.

“At this point I do not see the extraordinary circumstance that I use as a standard to determine whether to filibuster a nominee,” Collins told reporters Thursday. “Keep in mind we’ve not yet had the Judiciary hearings; it’s possible something new will come out.”

Collins said she would not make a decision about whether to vote for the nomination itself until after the Senate Judiciary Committee completed its hearings. The panel is expected to hear testimony from Kagan in July.

Brown said Kagan had assuaged his concerns over how her judicial philosophy would affect the military.

While serving as dean of Harvard Law School, Kagan barred military recruiters from campus a year after penning a memo that blasted the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy as a “moral injustice of the first order.”

Kagan reinstated recruiters’ access after the Supreme Court agreed to review an appellate court decision striking down the Solomon Amendment, which restricted federal funds to schools that fail to help recruiters.

Brown asked Kagan about her action, which Sen. Jeff Sessions (Ala.), the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, called “a big mistake.”

“She answered it, I felt, very honestly, and it was very clear to me after we spoke about it at length that she is supportive of the men and women who are fighting to protect us and very supportive of the military as a whole," Brown told reporters after the meeting.

"I do not feel that her judicial philosophy will be hurting men and women who are serving," he said.

Brown declined to say he would vote for Kagan, but his positive review gives her a big boost. Democrats consider him one of the Republicans most likely to back Kagan. President Barack Obama called Brown on Monday and asked him to keep an open mind on the nominee.

After meeting with her Wednesday morning, Specter praised Kagan as “very forthcoming."

He told reporters that Kagan scored points with him by acknowledging the Supreme Court needs to show more deference to Congress, a longtime concern of the former chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

Kagan also ingratiated herself with Specter by responding enthusiastically to his proposal to televise Supreme Court proceedings, a battle he has waged for years.

Specter declined to say whether he would support her nomination, but his comments pave the way for a yes vote.

“We talked about the Citizens United case and she said she thought the court was not sufficiently deferential to Congress,” Specter said.

“The issue of deference to Congress on fact-finding matters is something which I consider very important,” Specter said.

Specter voted against Kagan’s nomination to become solicitor general last year because she revealed little of her views on several cases.

One case involved the power of foreign policy concerns to pre-empt the insurance claims of Holocaust survivors. Another involved the power of the victims of the 9/11 attacks to sue Saudi princes who funded charities linked to al Qaeda.

“It is difficult to cast a negative vote on someone with the qualifications and background of Dean Kagan, but we have a major problem of institutional standing to find out from a nominee what the nominee thinks on important questions,” Specter said before voting against Kagan last year.

Specter said he thought Kagan would be more responsive to his concerns after meeting with her.

“I thought it was a very good meeting and she was very forthcoming,” Specter said. “She’s a good candidate. It doesn’t constitute a commitment on the vote, but she’s a good candidate.”


Eric Zimmermann contributed to this report.