Maine senators mull Obama’s court choice

Posted May 10, 2010, at 2:59 p.m.
Solicitor General Elena Kagan stands with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden as she is introduced as Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court during an announcement in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Monday, May 10, 2010. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
AP
Solicitor General Elena Kagan stands with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden as she is introduced as Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court during an announcement in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Monday, May 10, 2010. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine’s two U.S. senators say they want to learn more about Solicitor General Elena Kagan’s qualifications and judicial philosophy before deciding whether to support her nomination to the Supreme Court.

Sen. Olympia Snowe said Monday that Kagan appears to have strong intellectual credentials. Snowe says she wants to learn more about Kagan’s experience and expertise, and to meet with her to discuss issues including how Kagan would characterize her judicial philosophy.

Fellow Republican Sen. Susan Collins also says she looks forward to meeting with Kagan to learn more about her experience and judicial philosophy. Collins says Kagan has an impressive resume of public service and strong legal credentials but does not have extensive writings by which one can assess her judicial philosophy.

Obama chose a nominee who has never been a judge, a factor the White House said had worked in Kagan’s favor, giving her a different perspective from the other justices. Poised to put his imprint on the court for a second time, the president embraced Kagan’s profile: a left-leaning lawyer who has won praise from the right, earned political experience at the White House and on the college campus, cleared one Senate confirmation already and served as the nation’s top lawyer.

He wanted not just a justice who would thrive, but one who would lead.

At 50 years old and with lifetime tenure, Kagan could extend Obama’s court legacy by decades. Her vote could be the difference on cases that shape American liberties and the scope of the government’s power.

The choice also makes history for Obama, and he reveled in it. After being the first president to appoint a Hispanic justice last year in Sonia Sotomayor, he would also be the one who ensured that three women would serve on the court at the same time. Kagan would join Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Mentioning Kagan’s late mother, Obama said: “I think she would relish, as do I, the prospect of three women taking their seat on the nation’s highest court for the first time in history — a court that would be more inclusive, more representative, more reflective of us as a people than ever before.”

A beaming Kagan shared a handshake and a kiss with Obama, who towers over her, and then she stepped up on a riser to accept the honor of her life. Her comments emphasized a career built on teaching and arguing the law, not the judicial beliefs that she will be closely questioned about by senators.

She said the court allows “all Americans, regardless of their background or their beliefs, to get a fair hearing and an equal chance at justice.” That seemingly straightforward line of thinking has enormous weight with Obama, who has grown frustrated with a Supreme Court he says is tilting away from average Americans.

The White House immediately launched a political and communications campaign to define Kagan’s nomination in its terms. She is expected to start making courtesy visits on Capitol Hill this week. Obama himself started calling lawmakers of both parties on her behalf on Monday.

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