GOP promises tough questions for Kagan

Sen. Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsTrump criticizes Justice for restoring McCabe's benefits McCabe wins back full FBI pension after being fired under Trump Overnight Hillicon Valley — Apple issues security update against spyware vulnerability MORE (Ala.), the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, as well as Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchLobbying world Congress, stop holding 'Dreamers' hostage Drug prices are declining amid inflation fears MORE (R-Utah), warned of a tough grilling session from Republicans throughout the week. They said they would focus mainly on what they considered her lack of “real legal experience” and years spent in policy and politics.

“It is not a coronation, but a confirmation,” Sessions told a packed Senate Judiciary hearing room.

Kagan, clad in a brilliant royal-blue suit and pearls, calmly listened while each senator gave opening statements.

Before the hearing began, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahySenate Judiciary squares off over John Lewis voting rights bill Senate Democrats introduce legislation to strengthen Voting Rights Act 92 legal scholars call on Harris to preside over Senate to include immigration in reconciliation MORE (D-Vt.) ushered Kagan to a table where she sat alone. Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinJane Fonda to push for end to offshore oil drilling in California Overnight Health Care — Presented by The National Council on Mental Wellbeing — Merck asks FDA to authorize five-day COVID-19 treatment Bannon's subpoena snub sets up big decision for Biden DOJ MORE (D-Calif.) gave her a friendly wave as she waited for the hearing to begin.

Sessions quickly criticized the short time Kagan has spent practicing law, the fact that she has never tried a case before a jury, never served as a judge, her master’s thesis on socialism in New York and her time spent in the Clinton White House, as well as her decision to reverse Harvard’s existing military recruitment policy and kicking the military out of the recruiting office.

“This all sounds a lot like the progressive philosophy, which became fashionable among elite intellectuals a century ago — and which is now seeing a revival,” Sessions said. “They saw the Constitution as an outdated impediment to their expansive vision for a new social and political order in America.”

Republicans would seem to have little chance of derailing Kagan's nomination given the Democrats' majority in the Senate. But the GOP hopes to have several rounds of tough questions for President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaProgressives say go big and make life hard for GOP Biden giving stiff-arm to press interviews Jill Biden campaigns for McAuliffe in Virginia MORE's second Supreme Court nominee.

Leahy aggressively defended Kagan’s experience and record and noted that her confirmation would make her the fourth woman to serve on the Supreme Court, which he described as a high-water mark in history.

“I believe that fair-minded people will find her judicial philosophy well within the legal mainstream,” Leahy said. “I welcome questions to Solicitor General Kagan about judicial independence, but let us be fair. Let us listen to her answers. There is no basis to question her integrity and on one should presume that this intelligent woman, who has excelled during every part of her varied and distinguished career, lacks independence.”

Kagan will tell senators the Supreme Court is a “modest” institution that should be “properly deferential” to Congress, according to excerpts of Kagan’s planned remarks before the Senate Judiciary Committee released early by the White House.

The remarks show Kagan will make a point of defining the Court’s role in government as limited.

“[T]he Supreme Court is a wondrous institution,” Kagan will say. “But the time I spent in the other branches of government remind me that it must also be a modest one — properly deferential to the decisions of the American people and their elected representatives.”

— Sam Youngman contributed to this story.