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Kagan's Supreme Court Confirmation Hearings Will Begin June 28, Leahy Says

The Senate Judiciary Committee will begin confirmation hearings for U.S. Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan on June 28 as Democrats rejected a Republican bid for more time to study her record.

“It is in the best interests of the court, and of course of the country,” to confirm Kagan before the next session of the court begins in October, committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, said today. He urged senators to come to the hearings “with an open mind.”

Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the top Republican on the panel, said Leahy turned down his request to delay the hearings until Congress returns from a July 4 recess.

It is Leahy’s “prerogative” to set a date for the hearings, Sessions said in a statement. “It remains to be seen whether the schedule set by the chairman will be adequate to allow us to meet our important constitutional responsibility to thoroughly review Ms. Kagan’s record.”

Republicans will demand a delay if new information on Kagan emerges, Sessions said, particularly from thousands of pages of documents yet to be released relating to Kagan’s work in President Bill Clinton’s administration.

The material is housed at the Clinton Library and the Obama administration has promised to make it available. Leahy and Sessions today sent a joint letter to the library requesting documents and e-mails, largely pertaining to her work as a White House associate counsel during 1995 and 1996, and as a deputy assistant for domestic policy from 1997 to 1999.

Five-Week Recess

Senate leaders aim to vote on Kagan’s confirmation before a five-week congressional recess that begins Aug. 9.

President Barack Obama last week named Kagan, 50, the former dean of Harvard Law School, to replace retiring Justice John Paul Stevens. In her current job as solicitor general, Kagan is the government’s chief courtroom lawyer.

Sessions previously said she can expect questions about her lack of judicial experience. Some Republicans also have expressed concern she could be a liberal activist and a “rubber stamp” for the Obama administration. Sessions also said Republicans will explore Kagan’s support for barring military recruiters at Harvard Law School in a protest against the Defense Department’s ban on acknowledged gays and lesbians in the military.

Still, Democrats control the Senate 59-41, and some centrist Republicans -- including Susan Collins of Maine, Scott Brown of Massachusetts and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina -- have had praise for Kagan.

Following Sotomayor Schedule

The schedule for reviewing Kagan’s appointment would be similar to the pace last year when Obama’s first Supreme Court nominee, Sonia Sotomayor, was confirmed. Sotomayor’s hearings began 48 days after she was chosen, one less day than the timetable for Kagan.

“We’ll try to do our best to conduct an effective hearing, even if I would have liked a little more time,” Sessions said in his statement.

The White House yesterday delivered to the Judiciary Committee details about Kagan’s selection in response to a questionnaire from the panel. In it, Kagan disclosed that she had regular contacts with White House officials about a possible high court appointment for a month before Stevens announced his retirement.

Jon Kyl of Arizona, the No. 2 Senate Republican and a member of the judiciary panel, said May 16 that a Republican filibuster of Kagan isn’t likely because what is known about her background and past actions doesn’t rise to “extreme circumstances.” Without a filibuster, she would need the support of 51 senators to take her place on the court.

To contact the reporter on this story: Laura Litvan in Washington at llitvan@bloomberg.net

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