After more than three hours, Elena Kagan, the solicitor general of the United States, got her chance to speak directly to the panel of senators who will weigh her nomination to be the next Supreme Court justice and promised to do her best and work hard while keeping her mind open to deal with contentious issues.
Kagan avoided taking any specific positions Monday on the contentious social issues on which she will likely rule, if confirmed. Nominated to become the 112th justice on the Supreme Court, she took a modest stand while promising to work impartially for justice for all.
"I will make no pledges this week other than this one -- that if confirmed, I will remember and abide by all these lessons," she told the Senate Judiciary Committee. "I will listen hard, to every party before the Court and to each of my colleagues. I will work hard. And I will do my best to consider every case impartially, modestly, with commitment to principle, and in accordance with law."
It is not unusual for nominees to avoid taking any stand that could open the door to criticism. In their opening statements, Republicans politely, but firmly, questioned Kagan's qualifications, her judicial experience and her politics, which they called too activist and too liberal.
But Kagan avoided directly responding to their concerns in her opening statement, opting for a philosophical approach.
"What the Supreme Court does is to safeguard the rule of law, through a commitment to even-handedness, principle, and restraint," Kagan said.
"The idea is engraved on the very face of the Supreme Court building: Equal Justice Under Law. It means that everyone who comes before the court -- regardless of wealth or power or station -- receives the same process and the same protections. What this commands of judges is even-handedness and impartiality. What it promises is nothing less than a fair shake for every American," she said.
Citing her experience in the Clinton White House and as part of the Obama administration, Kagan said "the time I spent in the other branches of government remind me that [the Supreme Court] must also be a modest one -- properly deferential to the decisions of the American people and their elected representatives.
"The Supreme Court, of course, has the responsibility of ensuring that our government never oversteps its proper bounds or violates the rights of individuals," Kagan said, setting a legal line trying to define a judge's role. "But the court must also recognize the limits on itself and respect the choices made by the American people."
Kagan also discussed her experience as dean of Harvard Law School. Republicans have questioned that job and her actions hindering military recruiting on campus.
"I've led a school whose faculty and students examine and discuss and debate every aspect of our law and legal system," she said. "And what I've learned most is that no one has a monopoly on truth or wisdom. I've learned that we make progress by listening to each other, across every apparent political or ideological divide. I've learned that we come closest to getting things right when we approach every person and every issue with an open mind. And I've learned the value of a habit that Justice [John Paul] Stevens wrote about more than 50 years ago -- of 'understanding before disagreeing.'"
With a nod to her grandparents, Kagan pledged to be worthy of the nomination and the Judiciary panel adjourned until Tuesday morning.