WASHINGTON – Even as President Barack Obama labeled criticisms of Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan "thin gruel," Republicans wouldn't rule out a filibuster to block the liberal activism many suspect she'll bring to the bench, a key GOP senator said Sunday.
Kagan, who as solicitor general has represented the Obama administration before the court, will begin Monday the first of several grillings on her record and judicial views before lawmakers.
"If things come out to indicate she's so far outside the mainstream, it's conceivable a filibuster might occur," said Jeff Sessions, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
For Kagan, who has never before served as judge, "lack of experience is very significant," Sessions told CBS television's "Face the Nation."
The main question, he insisted, was whether Kagan understood that a judge "can't utilize the power of the lifetime appointment to redefine the meaning of the Constitution, to have it promote an agenda, in an activist way."
Senators, particularly critical Republicans, are eager to hear what Kagan has to say. Her opening statement, expected at the end of the day Monday, will mark her first substantive remarks since the May 10 nomination announcement at the White House.
While Democrats express confidence that Kagan will perform admirably, Republicans say the onus is on her to put their suspicions to rest.
"She'll have to convince me that all of this liberalism that she's lived with all her life can be put in a proper place, and when she gets to be a judge she'll be left of center but within the mainstream of judging," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told "Fox News Sunday."
The Judiciary Committee member cited several concerns, including her actions as Harvard Law School dean to restrict military recruiters on campus -- something Graham called "problematic for most Americans" -- and her stated admiration for liberal Israeli judge Aharon Barak, former president of Israel's Supreme Court.
Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, who chairs the judiciary panel, said he would "make sure every Republican senator and every Democratic senator has an opportunity to ask all of the questions they want" in the hearings.
"Let's hear from her. At the end of the week, people's views may be entirely different. Let her answer these questions," he said.
"I think you're going to see a brilliant woman, a brilliant legal mind, and you're going to see somebody who is going to be the 112th justice of the US Supreme Court."
If approved by the panel, Kagan's nomination would then head to the full Senate, where a simple majority of the 100 seats is needed to confirm her as just the fourth woman to sit on the nine-justice court in its 221-year history.
If confirmed, she would be the first non-judge in nearly four decades to reach the summit of US justice, and at 50 would be the youngest member of the court.
The White House and its Democratic allies have said they would like to see Kagan confirmed as liberal standard bearer John Paul Stevens's replacement before the month-long August recess and in time for the court's fall session.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., told "Fox News Sunday" that Kagan is "superbly qualified" and "in the mainstream of thinking."
"I believe the drift net has been out to find some disqualifying factor and it hasn't been found," she said.
Much attention has been focused on her work in the 1990s as a mid-level Clinton administration staffer in the White House and from her earlier yearlong clerkship for Justice Thurgood Marshall. One item that will likely come up is a 1995 article in which she described Supreme Court hearings as a "vapid and hollow charade."
Feinstein said her record is what matters most.
"This is a very impressive record, and that's what we judge people on -- not that she said this one time or that one time," Feinstein said.
© AFP 2013