The Senate Judiciary Committee’s top Republican spent much of his allotted 30 minutes for questioning Elena Kagan on Tuesday morning by painting her as antimilitary. Sen. Jeff Sessions suggested President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee had created a hostile environment for the military by disfavoring military recruiters when she was dean of Harvard Law School earlier this decade.
But Kagan gave no ground. She politely contradicted Sessions even as he bluntly challenged her responses. Kagan repeatedly stressed that she had always revered the military and those who serve in it and had made this clear as dean by regularly honoring students who had served or planned to serve in the military.
She also emphasized that she had violated no law and had insured military recruiters ample access to Harvard law students and to the campus–even as she limited the law school’s assistance to military recruiters. This, she said, was in keeping with a longstanding law-school policy disfavoring any employer that discriminated against gay people.
Kagan’s testimony was truthful and precise. But whether the Sessions attacks resonated with an American public that has high respect for men and women in uniform remains to be seen.
In earlier questioning, Sen. Patrick Leahy, the committee’s Democratic chairman, used softball questions to elicit testimony by Kagan that recent decisions recognizing a constitutional right to own guns for self-defense are “settled law.” This was significant because the court’s three more-liberal members and Justice John Paul Stevens, who retired effective Monday, implied in dissenting opinions in Monday’s big gun-rights decision that they would like to overturn it and a 2008 decision that had set the stage for it. Kagan’s testimony sounded fairly close to a commitment not to vote to overturn those decisions.