Reporting from Washington —
Supporters and critics of Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan argued their case before the Senate Judiciary Committee late Thursday, but one of her most formidable opponents weighed in earlier in the day.
The National Rifle Assn., Washington's powerful gun lobby, came out against her confirmation, saying Kagan "has repeatedly demonstrated a clear hostility to the fundamental, individual right to keep and bear arms guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution."
As a domestic policy advisor for President Clinton in the 1990s, Kagan was part of an administration that battled the NRA on issues such as assault weapons, the importation of semiautomatic rifles, trigger locks and gun show sales. During her two days of testimony this week, however, she said it was "settled law" that individuals had a right under the Constitution to own a handgun.
The NRA also noted that it would "score" the Senate vote on Kagan's confirmation, meaning the organization will view a vote in her favor as a lack of commitment to gun rights. The lobby group made the same threat last year in the nomination of Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who was confirmed by a 68-31 vote, with several gun rights senators supporting her.
The organization noted that Sotomayor too had pledged fidelity to the high court's gun rights jurisprudence, then joined the four-justice dissent this week in a decision extending the individual handgun right to states. The previous case had concerned Washington, D.C., a federal city.
Kagan, the U.S. solicitor general, completed her Senate testimony Wednesday. On Thursday, the last day of the hearing, the Judiciary Committee heard from multiple panels of witnesses who spoke for and against her confirmation. The hearing was delayed while the body of the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) was laid in repose in the Senate chamber.
A panel of former military officers criticized Kagan for her decision, while dean of Harvard Law School, to briefly deny recruiters for the armed forces use of the school's career services office because of the Pentagon's "don't ask, don't tell" policy regarding gay and lesbian service members.
Kagan testified that campus veterans' groups worked with the recruiters instead and that recruitment didn't suffer. In testimony, she argued that her view had been supported by an appeals court ruling, which was later overturned by a unanimous Supreme Court. She altered Harvard Law School's policy after the high court's action.
"She has demonstrated a strong bias against the military," said Col. Thomas Moe, a retired Air Force officer.
Capt. Flagg Youngblood, a retired Army officer, compared Kagan's actions to "separate but equal" civil rights abuses in the Deep South, saying Kagan had practiced "an unlawful brand of segregation."
But Army National Guard Capt. Kurt White, president of the Harvard Law Armed Forces Assn., defended Kagan, saying she made veterans "feel welcome and respected" at the school and noted that she hosted an annual dinner for veterans and their families.
A former George W. Bush administration lawyer and conservative law professor, Jack Goldsmith, also argued for Kagan's confirmation, saying she would make an "outstanding" justice. Goldsmith, who helped craft anti-terrorism policy at the Justice Department under President Bush, was hired by Kagan at Harvard over liberal professors' objections.
He said Kagan's actions "demonstrate a profound commitment to the frank and open exchange of ideas."
Kagan's nomination is likely to be voted on by the Judiciary Committee in mid-July, with a Senate floor vote by early August.