The Kabuki theater of the Supreme Court confirmation process began on Tuesday, with nominee Elena Kagan steadfastly refusing to characterize herself as a "progressive" or "legal progressive" even though two prominent lawyers with ties to the Obama administration have done just that.
In his opening questioning, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Al.), the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, read comments made about Kagan by former White House counsel Greg Craig and Vice President Biden's Chief of Staff Ron Klain, each of whom insisted that Kagan was cut from a progressive political mold. (White House aides, for what it's worth, aren't entirely pleased that either of these characterizations were made in the first place).
"I'm not quite sure how I would characterize my politics," she replied. "But one thing I do know is that my politics would be, must be, have to be, completely separate from my judgment."
"It is absolutely the case that I have served in two Democratic administrations," Kagan went on. At which point Sessions interrupted to ask, specifically, about the notion that she was a "legal" progressive as opposed to having merely served under progressive officials.
"Senator Sessions, I honestly don't know what that label means. I've worked in two Democratic administrations... you can tell something about me and my political views from that... I love my good friend Ron Klain. But I guess I think people should be allowed to label themselves."
It was a fair response, if not a bit guarded. Kagan's political views, are no more or less relevant to her confirmation process than those of John Roberts, who served in the Attorney General's office during the Reagan Administration. And it's hard to recall Sessions probing all that deeply during the confirmation hearings for the current Chief Justice. Indeed, while Kagan insisted that she has detached her politics from her jurisprudence, the senator remained unconvinced.
"I guess I would have to classify you as someone in the theme of legal progressive," he said.
Here's video of the exchange: