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Few Quibbles in Kagan and Perrelli Confirmation Hearing

If today’s confirmation hearing for Solicitor General-nominee Elena Kagan was a supposed “trial balloon” for the scrutiny of a possible Supreme Court appointment, expect smooth sailing.

Though not discussed in the mainstream media nearly as much as the nomination of Attorney General Eric Holder, the confirmation hearing of Kagan and Associate Attorney General-nominee Tom Perrelli was eagerly anticipated in the legal world, and with good reason. Besides likely becoming the first female solicitor general, Kagan — who for the last few years has been the dean of Harvard Law School — has been on just about everyone’s short-list as a possible appointment to the Supreme Court. After the news of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s battle with pancreatic cancer came to light last week, the legal blogosphere lit up with talk about Kagan’s potential sooner-than-expected ascent to the bench.

That’s something the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee were undoubtedly aware of while they questioned Kagan and Perrelli. While some of the minority members, particularly Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), quibbled briefly over Kagan’s lack of experience as a litigator, most seemed in awe of her reputation as not only an incredible legal mind, but also at her heralded skill at brokering discussion between partisan parties.

While Perrelli received his share of questions, the committee’s attention seemed to rest squarely on Kagan. She joked with Arlen Specter (R-Penn.), the committee’s ranking Republican, over some or her past legal writing — going so far as to call one of her own memos “the dumbest thing I’ve ever read,” and saying that the position of Solicitor General, which is sometimes called the “10th seat on the Supreme Court,” is more like being the “37th clerk.” Both Kagan and Perrelli, like Holder before them, emphasized their commitment to running the Justice Department without politics and righting the course from the last eight years.

Both Kagan and Perrelli still need to respond to some of the senators’ questions in writing, so a committee vote to send the nominations to the full Senate is not expected until sometime next week. The hearing lasted slightly more than two hours — and if speed is an indicator of the committee’s prerogative on these nominees, things are looking very good for the Obama administration.

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