- Associated Press - Monday, June 28, 2010

WASHINGTON (AP) — Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan pledged Monday to be properly deferential to Congress if confirmed as a justice and to strive to “consider every case impartially, modestly, with commitment to principle and in accordance with law.”

In advance excerpts of her opening statement before the SenateJudiciary Committee, Miss Kagan said the court is responsible for making sure the government does not violate the rights of individuals. “But the court must also recognize the limits on itself and respect the choices made by the American people,” she said.

As the opening gavel fell on her nationally televised hearings, the 50-year-old Obama administration official and former Harvard Law School dean appeared on track for confirmation, the result of a Democratic majority on the Judiciary Committee and in the Senate as a whole.

In excerpts of his own, the committee’s chairman, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, noted that if confirmed, Miss Kagan would be the fourth woman to take a seat on the high court. She is also President Obama’s second nomination to don the robes of a justice, following his selection last year of Sonia Sotomayor.

“No senator should seek to impose an ideological litmus test to secure promises of specific outcomes in cases coming before the Supreme Court,” Mr. Leahy said.

Judging by recent confirmation history, there was little chance that Miss Kagan would run afoul of that admonition. In the past quarter century, most nominees to the Supreme Court have pledged fealty to the Constitution and legal precedent — and little else — in their efforts to win confirmation.

Mr. Obama nominated Miss Kagan to succeed retiring Justice John Paul Stevens, a frequent dissenter in a string of 5-4 rulings handed down by a conservative majority under Chief Justice John Roberts.

Strikingly, there were two such rulings in the hours before the hearing opened. In one, the court struck down part of an anti-fraud law enacted in 2002 in response to scandals involving Enron and other corporations.

In another, a 5-4 majority said the right to bear arms can’t be limited by state or local laws any more than by federal legislation.

A handful of protesters gathered outside the Senate Hart Office Building across the street from the Capitol, some opposing Miss Kagan’s nomination, others expressing unhappiness that Republicans haven’t done more to block it.

By midmorning about 200 people had claimed tickets for seats in the hearing room, the first ones arriving as early as 6:30 to line up in the heat.

“The Supreme Court is a wondrous institution. But the time I spent in the other branches of government remind me that it must also be a modest one,” Miss Kagan said in the excerpts released in advance.

With allies arguing she can be a consensus-builder on the ideologically polarized court, Miss Kagan says her time at Harvard taught her the importance of open-mindedness across apparent political and ideological divides.

Democrats have more than enough votes to confirm her, and Republicans have shown no inclination to try to block such a vote, although some conservative interest groups are urging them to do so.

Mr. Leahy predicted that Miss Kagan would be cleared with votes to spare. He brushed off GOP questions about her lack of judicial experience, saying there had been many successful justices who had no previous bench time. He cited Earl Warren, Hugo Black and Robert Jackson.

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