WASHINGTON (AP) - A senior House Democrat said Tuesday that
senators should fully question Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan to
make sure she supports abortion rights, in light of her previous
backing for limiting late-term abortions.
In a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Rep. Louise
Slaughter of New York said she views as "troubling" a 1997 memo
Kagan wrote urging then-President Bill Clinton to back a ban on all
abortions of viable fetuses except when the physical health of the
mother was at risk.
Slaughter, the co-chair of the House Pro-Choice Caucus, wrote that the lack of a judicial record for Kagan, who has never been a
judge, makes it imperative that the committee scrutinize her
Kagan, President Barack Obama's choice to succeed retiring
Justice John Paul Stevens, was a domestic policy adviser to Clinton
when she wrote the memo Slaughter cited. That memo is part of a
trove of documents, most of them unreleased, at the Clinton
presidential library in Little Rock, Ark.
In the 1997 memo, Kagan urged Clinton to support a ban on
late-term abortions, a political compromise that put the
administration at odds with abortion rights groups. Kagan and her
boss, Bruce Reed, told the president that he should support the ban
because it might help him avoid even stricter language from a
Republican-led Congress. Clinton supported it, but the proposal
ultimately failed and Clinton vetoed a stricter Republican ban.
Slaughter raised her concerns as the White House delivered to
Capitol Hill Kagan's lengthy response to a Judiciary Committee
questionnaire, including cartons of new documents from her past
that could shed light on her views and legal approach.
Her handwritten notes from a May 2009 speech offer some insight
into how Kagan approached her job as solicitor general - and a
potential answer to GOP critics who have suggested she would be a
Supreme Court rubber stamp for Obama's policies.
"My client is not the president - it is the United States - and
while the president sometimes speaks on behalf of this client,
Congress does as well, where there's a statute at issue," Kagan
The papers also reveal that Obama's team first contacted Kagan
about serving on the Supreme Court more than a month before Stevens
announced his intent to retire. Vice President Joe Biden was
arranging his first job interview with Kagan for the post two days
before Stevens went public with his plans.
The documents offer an extraordinarily detailed picture of the
former Harvard Law School dean, from articles she wrote as an
undergraduate for Princeton University's campus newspaper to her
But lawmakers in both parties are focusing instead on the
Clinton-era papers as the key to revealing what kind of justice
Kagan would be. Some 160,000 pages from her time as a domestic
policy adviser and associate White House counsel are expected to be
released by the Clinton library in the coming weeks.
Without those documents, lawmakers say they have few clues about
what Kagan's judicial style would be, given her limited courtroom
experience. Kagan, 50, stepped aside Monday from her job as
solicitor general, where she represented the Obama administration
before the Supreme Court.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said the Judiciary Committee
shouldn't hold hearings on Kagan's confirmation until senators have
a chance to read all the papers.
"What she told me is that 160,000 pages that we're going to see
will reveal a lot of information ... about her views, about her
attitudes and her activities while serving at the White House" in
the 1990s, Cornyn said after a closed-door meeting with Kagan.
Kagan returned to Capitol Hill on Tuesday for courtesy calls
with senators. She already has met with more than a fifth of the
Senate - most of them members of the Judiciary panel - and appears
for now to be on a smooth road to confirmation.
She told senators in the questionnaire that if confirmed as a
justice, she would stay out of any case she worked on as the
government's top lawyer. So far that would mean stepping aside from
eight of the 18 cases the court has agreed to hear in the term that
begins in October. They include a claim of job discrimination from
an Army reservist, an immigration dispute, a criminal sentencing
case and lawsuits against vaccine makers.
In the papers, Kagan reported her net worth at $1.76 million, a
nearly 75 percent increase over what it was when she was nominated
to be solicitor general in January 2009.
Two factors appear to account for the bulk of the increase. The
stock market has recovered from its dramatic dip in 2008 and Kagan
sold her residence in Cambridge, Mass., shedding $1.2 million in
mortgages and pocketing some cash from the sale. Her assets are
held in cash, money market accounts, mutual funds and retirement
Some glimmers of her views came from her college days.
Her Princeton University thesis on the downfall of the socialist
movement in New York City a century ago is something more than a
history lesson. The acknowledgments reveal a personal motivation
for the project that has sparked debate in the blogosphere.
"I would like to thank my brother Marc, whose involvement in
radical causes led me to explore the history of American radicalism
in the hope of clarifying my own political ideas," Kagan writes in
And her writings in The Daily Princetonian reveal some of her
own liberal political leanings. She wrote a signed column in
November 1980, days after Ronald Reagan won the presidency and
Republicans captured the Senate, in which she lamented "a general
turn to the right and profound disorganization on the left."
She described four GOP victors who knocked off Democratic
incumbents as "anonymous, but Moral Majority-backed" candidates
and "avengers of 'innocent life' and the B-1 bomber." Those
Republicans included a future vice president, Dan Quayle, and a
member of the Judiciary panel, Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, who
voted against Kagan's confirmation as solicitor general last year
and could be expected to oppose her again.