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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Gregg a key vote in high court battle

Telegraph Editorial

Sometime in the next few months, all eyes will be on the Senate Judiciary Committee as it begins considering the nomination of Elena Kagan as the next justice to the U.S. Supreme Court.

But you can forgive some senators if they feel like they are already standing squarely in the spotlight, even if they don’t have seats on the prestigious 19- member committee.

That’s because these are the seven Republican senators who broke ranks from the majority of their colleagues last spring to support the nomination of Kagan as the nation’s solicitor general.

And our own U.S. Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire is one of them.

On Monday, President Barack Obama formally announced that Kagan, a former dean of Harvard Law School, is his choice to replace Justice John Paul Stevens when he retires.

If confirmed, Kagan, 50, would be the youngest of the nine justices and the only one never to have served as a judge on a lower court. The most recent justices to be confirmed with no judicial experience were former Chief Justice William Rehnquist and former Associate Justice Lewis Powell, who were nominated by President Richard Nixon to fill two vacancies in 1971.

She also would become the first solicitor general to make the jump to the high court since former Associate Justice Thurgood Marshall in 1967.

Considered the liberal successor to the retiring Stevens, Kagan’s nomination is certain to draw criticism from conservative Republicans – radio commentator Rush Limbaugh wasted little time in labeling her an intellectual “lightweight” and a “pure academic idealist radical” – which could put additional pressure on the seven Republicans who supported her nomination last March when the Senate voted to confirm her, 61-31.

In fact, that may have been what prompted several of them to issue statements within minutes of the president’s official announcement, drawing a distinction between backing her as solicitor general and doing likewise for a lifetime seat on the nation’s highest court.

“Her previous confirmation, and my support for her in that position, do not by themselves establish either her qualifications for the Supreme Court or my obligation to support her,” Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said in his statement.

Besides Hatch and Gregg, the other GOP senators who supported Kagan as solicitor general were: Sens. Tom Coburn, of Oklahoma; Susan Collins, of Maine; Jon Kyl, of Arizona; Richard Lugar, of Indiana, and Olympia Snowe, of Maine.

For his part, Gregg issued a more generic statement that made no mention of his previous vote.

“I congratulate Solicitor General Elena Kagan on being nominated to the United States Supreme Court and look forward to carefully reviewing her record and qualifications for this position,” said Gregg, who also was one of nine Republicans to support Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the court last year.

“The ‘advise and consent’ role for Supreme Court nominations is one of the Senate’s most significant constitutional responsibilities. I therefore hope the Senate will conduct a thorough review.”

Of course, that didn’t stop New Hampshire Democratic Party leaders from drawing attention to the senator’s previous vote in a statement of their own.

“Judd Gregg, along with six other Republican Senators, recognized her stellar qualifications when they supported her as Solicitor General,” Chairman Ray Buckley said in his statement. “He should do so again and support a quick confirmation of this outstanding nominee.”

Given the speed with which Washington traditionally moves – especially in an election year – we don’t anticipate there will be anything “quick” about it.