As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I spent much of last week participating in the confirmation hearings of Solicitor General Elena Kagan to be Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. It was almost a year ago, that I also participated in Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation hearing and I consider both to be historic moments.
If you have children, if you work for a living, if you are a woman, if you vote and if you care about clean water and clean air, it’s important to pay close attention to the confirmation process and the work of the Supreme Court. The decisions of the Supreme Court have a very real impact on all our lives. From desegregating our schools to knocking down laws that once prevented marriage between races to the right of privacy, over the years the Supreme Court has handed down landmark rulings that have changed our nation.
During Solicitor General Kagan’s confirmation hearing, I focused my questions on her commitment to upholding the fundamental rights found in our Constitution. I also questioned her closely about her views regarding congressional intent and the need to ensure that the judiciary does not legislate from the bench. In recent years, there have been numerous 5-4 decisions that have overturned long-standing court precedent and the clear intent of Congress, often favoring the rights of big business or the government over individuals. During the hearings, I strongly expressed my concerns about such decisions.
Some of my more conservative colleagues chose to use the hearing to attack the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, a great Marylander, for whom Solicitor General Kagan once served as a law clerk. Several Senators expressed concern that she would not be strict enough in interpreting the Constitution because Justice Marshall had once stated that the U.S. Constitution – as originally written – was flawed.
To that I say: “Justice Marshall was correct.” In 1788, when our Constitution was adopted, African Americans were slaves and women were not allowed to vote. Over time, we amended the Constitution to ensure that our nation would give true meaning to the words of the framers of the Constitution – ensuring liberty, justice and equality for all Americans.
I grew up during a time when segregation was allowed – schools were segregated, theaters were segregated and many public facilities were segregated. It is important that the next Supreme Court justice follow in the best traditions of the Court, particularly in following legal precedent to advance the civil liberties of all Americans. During the hearings, I was pleased that Solicitor General Kagan reaffirmed her commitment to follow congressional intent in protecting the rights of the American people.
The Judiciary Committee’s hearings have concluded. Sometime in mid-July, the Judiciary Committee will vote on her nomination, and, if approved, it will then go to the floor for a vote. I was impressed by Solicitor General Kagan’s responses, her knowledge of the law and her unshakable demeanor. I believe Elena Kagan possesses the qualifications and judicial temperament to be a member of the Supreme Court.