Kagan's White House Talks on Top Court Preceded Stevens Retirement Plans

Elena Kagan had regular contacts with White House officials about a possible U.S. Supreme Court appointment for a month before Justice John Paul Stevens announced his retirement, Kagan told senators considering her nomination.

Kagan said she was told on March 5 by White House Counsel Bob Bauer and his deputy that President Barack Obama wanted to consider her for a seat on the court. Stevens disclosed his plans on April 9 and Obama nominated Kagan on May 10.

Kagan supplied details of the selection process in responding to a Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire released yesterday.

Kagan, Obama’s top Supreme Court lawyer, would likely take Stevens’s place in the court’s liberal wing on many issues. Senate confirmation of her would put three women on the nine- member court for the first time.

Kagan, 50, said that as solicitor general she declined to take part in one case because of her friendship with former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, a classmate at Princeton University and Harvard Law School. The case concerned a New York Times Co. effort to unseal applications for wiretaps used to investigate Spitzer’s involvement in a prostitution ring.

Kagan disclosed that she has a net worth of $1.8 million, including $824,000 in retirement funds and $740,000 in cash.

Making the Rounds

Kagan yesterday continued to make the rounds on Capitol Hill, meeting with the senators who will decide whether she becomes the 112th Supreme Court justice.

Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a senior Republican on the Judiciary Committee, praised the nominee after they met in private. Graham is the only Republican on the panel who supported Sonia Sotomayor when Obama nominated her to the court last year.

Graham said he doesn’t believe Kagan should be disqualified because of her lack of experience as a judge, as some Republicans have suggested. Kagan has been dean of Harvard Law School, a White House aide under President Bill Clinton and a lawyer in private practice.

Graham said Kagan assuaged his concerns about her support for barring military recruiters at Harvard to protest the Defense Department’s ban on acknowledged gays and lesbians.

“I didn’t find her differences with DOD policy to translate that she doesn’t admire and respect our men and women in uniform,” said Graham. “I didn’t find that to be the case at all.” He said he will decide whether he will support her after her confirmation hearings.

Military Detainees

He also said he generally agrees with the positions she has taken on legal rights for suspected terrorists.

“For the most part, I think she’s taken pretty well- reasoned positions about the legal rights of detainees, especially when it comes to applying habeas rights,” he said. Habeas refers to a prisoner’s right to a court hearing.

The White House asked the National Archives last week to accelerate the release of more than 160,000 pages of Kagan’s records, including e-mails, when she worked in the Clinton White House from 1995 to 1999.

Representative Louise Slaughter, a New York Democrat and co-chairwoman of the House Pro-Choice Caucus, urged Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy in a letter yesterday to carefully scrutinize Kagan’s record on abortion rights. Slaughter said Kagan’s lack of a judicial record means that her position on abortion isn’t known.

Slaughter called “troubling” a memorandum Kagan co- authored as an aide in the Clinton White House. In it, she encouraged the president to support a Democratic proposal to permit late-term abortions in limited circumstances to prevent approval of a more-restrictive Republican measure.

“The next Supreme Court justice must be unwavering in their support of judicial precedent with respect to women’s rights,” Slaughter wrote.

To contact the reporters on this story: Greg Stohr in Washington at gstohr@bloomberg.net; Laura Litvan in Washington at llitvan@bloomberg.net.

Bloomberg reserves the right to remove comments but is under no obligation to do so, or to explain individual moderation decisions.

Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus.