Prepping Elena Kagan for Confirmation
Biden reportedly was a key guide through the shoals of this gateway to lifetime tenure for Obama's first nominee, now Justice
Biden was the committee chairman during two of the most contentious confirmation hearings in recent memory -- the one that rejected then federal appellate judge
In that role, the man who is now vice president was an aggressive inquisitor. In the first instance, his relentless grilling of conservative darling Bork on rights of privacy among other issues was central to Bork's failure to be gain the seat vacated by Justice
In the stormy Thomas hearings, allegations of sexual harassment failed to keep the nominee from the bench. Biden's efforts to conduct a fair hearing in the wake of his obvious opposition to the nominee brought him mixed reviews as Thomas squeezed through.
Later, Biden questioned the value of the whole confirmation process. He wrote that interrogation of the nominees and principal parties should be held in private, and that the confirmations should go directly to the
In his vice-presidential debate with Republican nominee
"It took about five years," he went on, "for me to realize that the ideology of that judge makes a big difference. ... It matters what your judicial philosophy is [and] the American people have a right to understand it and to know it." In other words, Biden was saying, nominees should not be permitted to duck the hard questions on what basis they would address their decisions.
Kagan, in a now-noted 1995 paper as professor at the
Kagan added that the senators should properly inquire about "the votes she would cast, the perspective she would add (or augment), and the direction in which she would move the institution," while taking care not to indicate or hint how she would vote on a specific case before the court.
All this might suggest that Kagan, after counseling with Biden in preparation for her own confirmation hearings, would be breaking from the customary practice of nominees saying nothing that might remotely impair the chances of being confirmed.
But based on the cautious testimony of Sotomayor in her own confirmation process with the benefit of Biden's counsel, viewers will be wise not to expect any great outpouring of straight talk from Kagan to probing questions on political philosophy and ideology.
Nor will knowing that inhibit opposing senators from posing their queries in the hope of making the witness sound evasive. Such is the nature of the confirmation hearings as they have evolved regardless of which party is in the
In the end, barring the unlikely outbreak of candor or disclosure of some smoking gun in the acknowledged short paper trail of this
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Prepping Elena Kagan for Confirmation | United States
(c) 2010 Jules Witcover