As Elena Kagan’s hearings ground through their third day, with confirmation virtually assured, viewers learned little that was new about the nominee. Mostly they saw senatorial skirmishes to fire up the conservative and liberal bases in an election year.
Republican senators tried to paint Kagan as political and deceptive on issues including so-called partial-birth abortion. But her detailed answers sounded convincing. And her questioners moved on with little followup, to the frustration of conservative activists who thought a more effective case against Kagan could have been made.
Meanwhile, Democratic senators spent their time airing gripes against the “conservative activist” Roberts Court and other pet themes.
The partial-birth-abortion issue came up when Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah told Kagan that her role in writing Clinton White House documents about the “particularly gruesome” procedure “bothers me a lot” because it could involve “politicization of science.” The Kagan documents involved a draft paper by a panel of the influential American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) on whether the procedure that critics call partial-birth abortion is ever necessary to protect the health of the woman. The initial ACOG draft, which it shared with the White House, said that the panel “could identify no circumstances under which this procedure … would be the only option to save the life or preserve the health of the woman.”