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Kagan: Confirmation process ‘sort of broken’

October 4, 2013

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — The newest member of the U.S. Supreme Court, Associate Justice Elena Kagan, said Friday that the confirmation process is “sort of broken,” and she isn’t sure how to fix a system that amounts to little more than theatrics at times.

Kagan, speaking to law students at the University of Alabama, said senators want to know how nominees will rule on cases, yet the would-be justices are limited in what they can say because of both judicial rules and the fear of providing critics with ammunition.

That leaves senators frustrated and results in what Kagan called “political theater” in which nominees listen while senators make speeches.

“I think the process is sort of broken. I think everyone would agree with that,” said Kagan. “It’s hard to say how to fix it.”

The court also has a problem with diversity even though members are both male and female, black and white, and come from different backgrounds, Kagan said.

All nine current justices attended either Harvard University or Yale University, and Kagan — a former law dean at Harvard — said the court is too heavily dominated by lawyers from elite law schools and the coasts.

“It’s just one of those weird, fluky things,” she said. Kagan said the court would have more credibility if it “looked more like the country.”

President Barack Obama appointed Kagan, a former U.S. solicitor general, to the court in 2010. While justices can come across as bitter enemies during oral arguments and in written opinions, Kagan said they actually “like each other quite a lot” despite sharp ideological differences.

Conservative Justice Antonin Scalia spends each New Year’s Eve with liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, said Kagan. Calling herself a “Jewish woman from New York City” who has little experience with guns, Kagan said she has been introduced to firearms guns and hunting by Scalia, who took her on a deer-hunting trip to Wyoming.

All but one of the current justices has spoken at Alabama through a lecture series sponsored by the family of U.S. District Judge W. Harold Albritton III of Montgomery. Rather than making a formal address, Kagan sat at the front of a large lecture hall and responded to questions from Albritton and William Brewbaker, the interim dean of the law school.

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