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Elena Kagan appears assured of becoming next Supreme Court justice

A majority of senators declares support for the high court nominee on the second day of debate over her confirmation. A floor vote is likely Thursday.

August 05, 2010|By James Oliphant, Tribune Washington Bureau

Reporting from Washington —

Elena Kagan's elevation to the Supreme Court appeared virtually assured Wednesday, the second day of debate over her confirmation, as a majority of senators declared support for her nomination.

Kagan, 50, the U.S. solicitor general, was tapped by President Obama in May to replace retired Justice John Paul Stevens. A floor vote on the nomination is likely Thursday, and Republicans are not expected to attempt a filibuster.

For some senators, however, their decision may have consequences beyond confirming the nation's 112th justice. Several Democrats casting votes are locked in tight reelection struggles, including Sen. Blanche Lincoln, a moderate from Arkansas who is battling Republican Rep. John Boozman.

Lincoln's office said Wednesday that the senator would vote to confirm Kagan. But when Lincoln took to the Senate floor in the afternoon, she spoke at length about a child nutrition bill and didn't mention the nominee.

Sen. Barbara Boxer of California announced that she too would back Kagan, praising her as a "role model for women entering the legal profession."

Boxer's opponent in the Senate race, Republican Carly Fiorina, followed with a statement saying she opposed Kagan's confirmation. "Her complete lack of judicial experience coupled with a public record that sheds minimal light on how she would execute [her] duties gives me great pause about her qualifications to serve on the highest court in the land," Fiorina said.

Kagan has never been a judge and has spent much of her career in academia and as a policy advisor in the Clinton administration. Boxer defended her qualifications.

Kagan's resume, Boxer said, "speaks for itself. She's been in the real world in some of these jobs. And that's important too. We want to make sure we have justices who understand what life is all about."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who is facing a challenge from Republican Sharron Angle, also has said he would support Kagan, as will Sen. Russell D. Feingold of Wisconsin, who is opposed by businessman Ron Johnson.

The only Democrat who has said he will oppose Kagan is Nebraska's Ben Nelson, up for reelection in 2012.

Kagan's nomination has even surfaced as an issue in Florida's hotly contested Senate race, which does not include an incumbent. Republican Marco Rubio, who is against Kagan's confirmation, has criticized opponent Gov. Charlie Crist for supporting Kagan. Crist, running as an independent, opposed the nomination of Justice Sonia Sotomayor last year while still a Republican.

None of the five Republicans who have said they will vote for Kagan — Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Judd Gregg of New Hampshire and Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, are up for reelection this year.

Polls have shown Kagan's public support hovering near 50%.

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