Graham explains Kagan vote

S.C. senator says he followed his conscience, not politics

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It was no surprise that Supreme Court hopeful Elena Kagan took a big step closer to confirmation Tuesday when she easily won the approval of a Democratic-controlled Senate panel.

And it wasn’t a total shocker that the 13-6 tally included a yes vote by a lone Republican - Sen. Lindsey Graham, who on occasion has reached across the partisan aisle to work with the majority.

But what wasn’t expected was the South Carolina lawmaker’s unusually blunt explanation for his vote, saying he was obligated to support a “qualified” Obama administration nominee because “the last election had consequences.”

“I could give a hundred reasons why I could vote no if I based my vote on how she disagrees with me,” said Mr. Graham prior to the SenateJudiciary Committee’s vote to approve Ms. Kagan’s nomination, which was then sent to the full Senate for a final vote.

But the senator said he was voting in favor of Ms. Kagan, the Obama administration’s solicitor general, because “I understood we lost [the 2008 election]. President Obama won.”

“I’m going to vote for her, and that doesn’t mean I’m pro-choice. I’m very pro-life,” Mr. Graham said. “I’m going to vote for her because I believe the last election had consequences.

“And this president chose someone who is qualified, who has the experience and knowledge to serve on this court, who’s in the mainstream of liberal philosophy and understands the difference between being a liberal judge and a politician.”

Mr. Graham added that it was his constitutional duty to put partisan politics aside and vote his conscience.

“The Constitution in my view puts a requirement on me as a senator to not replace my judgment for [the president’s], not to think of the hundred reasons I would pick somebody differently or pick a fight with Ms. Kagan,” he said. “It puts upon me a standard that’s stood the test of time. Is the person qualified? Is it a person of good character? Are they someone that understands the difference between being a judge and a politician?

“And, quite frankly, I think she’s passed all those tests.”

The senator’s vote angered conservatives nationwide - particularly anti-abortion rights groups who strongly oppose Ms. Kagan. She served as an adviser in the Clinton administration during its efforts to scale back a Republican proposal to ban so-called “partial-birth” abortions.

“We’re incredibly disappointed with Lindsey Graham,” Marilyn Musgrave of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List’s Votes Have Consequences project. “We were hoping that he would step up to the plate. Given Elena Kagan’s position on partial-birth abortion, this is absolutely amazing.”

Ms. Musgrave added that the senator’s explanation for voting yes was “very bewildering.”

“If you’re just going to automatically approve anyone that the president nominates, my goodness,” she said.

The senator’s views also were not the consensus of his party colleagues. Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the committee’s ranking Republican, said he worries that Ms. Kagan would be swayed by her liberal views while making judgments on the nation's highest court.

“Throughout her career, Ms. Kagan has placed her politics above the law,” he said. “Americans who are deeply troubled by Washington’s growing disregard for the Constitution should also be troubled by this nomination.”

Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, said that Ms. Kagan’s judicial philosophy was “intentionally vague and open to multiple interpretations” during her two days of testimony before the committee this summer.

“What do we know about this nominee? I submit, not much,” he said.

But Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, disagreed, saying that Ms. Kagan provided “very meaty answers - and a lot of them.”

“Some of my colleagues across the table are citing General Kagan’s failure to directly answer questions as a reason to vote against her. I find that really puzzling since by almost any standard she was more direct and forthright than [Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.] was at his hearings, and they voted for him,” he said.

Mr. Graham’s support of Ms. Kagan all but assures a successful confirmation in the full Senate, which is expected to vote on the issue before its August break.

Ms. Kagan is Mr. Obama’s second Supreme Court nominee after Sonia M. Sotomayor, who was confirmed last year.

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