The White House said Friday that Elena Kagan would be an impartial justice on the Supreme Court, as Republicans and conservative groups heaped criticism on her for her stance on legal issues and position on military recruitment at Harvard Law School.
With Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on Kagan's confirmation scheduled to start Monday, both sides were gearing up for a week's worth of politically charged exchanges on the fitness of President Barack Obama's nominee, the role of judges in society, and hot-button issues ranging from gun rights to gay marriage.
The White House said Kagan, who once blasted Supreme Court nominees for stonewalling important questions, would be forthcoming during her own hearings.
"She's going to be in a position to talk knowledgeably and in depth, but clearly and effectively, to the range of questions that are appropriately asked of a Supreme Court nominee," White House Counsel Bob Bauer told reporters in a conference call.
Aides noted that Kagan has drawn endorsements from some leading conservative lawyers and academics, but sidestepped a question about whether Kagan is a liberal.
"Every justice has a point of view that they bring to the bench. The question is are they going to decide issues on the merits and ... in an impartial way," presidential adviser David Axelrod said. "Yes, Elena Kagan will absolutely do that."
Republican senators and a vocal group of conservative interest groups, including anti-abortion rights organizations and a military group working to keep the ban on openly gay soldiers, portray Kagan as just the opposite.
Her opponents argue that Kagan's background as a White House lawyer and domestic policy adviser to former President Bill Clinton makes her unfit to be a justice.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said Kagan's work on Clinton's "aggressive gun-control agenda" is worrisome to gun-rights supporters.
"Elena Kagan's record raises concerns that she will be a reliable vote against Americans' right to keep and bear arms," said Cornyn, who added that he would question the nominee about "her commitment to protecting Second Amendment rights."
Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the top Republican on the Judiciary panel, wrote in an editorial that there was "no justification" for Kagan's decision while dean of Harvard Law School to deny military recruiters access to the law school's career services office.
Sessions circulated a letter Friday from Military Families United that blasted Kagan for the move.
"(W)e find Ms. Kagan's failure to offer support to our military in a time of war and her willingness to defy federal law as troubling and appalling," wrote the group, which says it represents soldiers' families.
The organization didn't take a position on Kagan's confirmation, but urged senators to demand answers from Kagan on the episode during next week's hearings. Another group, the Center for Military Readiness, is advocating a filibuster of Kagan over the issue.
The controversy arose because the military's prohibition against openly gay soldiers violated Harvard's policy against employers who discriminate in hiring. Kagan reinstated a compromise under which recruiters were allowed to work only through campus military and veterans' groups to make contact and conduct interviews with interested students.
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