U.S. Solicitor General Elena Kagan has her first big test this week in her ascent to the Supreme Court, as she faces a ritual grilling by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Since apparently nothing explosive has surfaced in the 160,000 pages of documents released on her, the hearings offer Republicans' their best chance of derailing Kagan's nomination. (Watch an ABC discussion previewing the hearings.) Here's a brief look at what to expect:
What's the schedule this week?
Senators begin opening statements Monday afternoon, then Kagan will face questions Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.
Who are her Senate interrogators?
Twelve Democrats and seven Republicans, all of whom have gone through Supreme Court confirmation hearings before, three of them as chairmen of the hearings.
What issues are likely to come up?
On the Republican side, Kagan's limiting of military recruiters' access to Harvard Law students; gun control, abortion, and other hot-button issues that will resonate during an election year; and whether she is independent enough from the Obama administration. On the Democratic side, senators will likely use the hearings to highlight the conservative "judicial activism" of the Roberts court, and some might press Kagan on her views about civil rights, civil liberties, and presidential powers.
Does it matter that Kagan has never been a judge?
Conservatives and liberals are both a little nervous that Kagan doesn't have a paper trail of rulings, but it isn't considered a disqualifying factor — several notable Supreme Court justices have been confirmed without any previous judicial experience. Some conservatives have taken up the line that, given her bench-less résumé and time in the Clinton and Obama administrations, Kagan is more "political operative" than objective jurist.
Which exchanges will be most interesting?
Perhaps those concerning her judicial philosophy. In nominating her, Obama described Kagan as someone who understands the the law empathetically, "as it affects the lives of ordinary people." By contrast, Chief Justice John Roberts resorted to an umpire analogy to describe what he considers the role of a judge: "It's my job to call balls and strikes, not to pitch or bat." Expect Kagan to be pressed on which view she supports. Also, look for senators to chide Kagan with her own 1995 critique of Supreme Court confirmation hearings as a "vapid and hollow charade," and exhortation that nominees be more forthcoming about their views on legal issues.