By Libby Casey
Alaska’s senators are split on the next United States Supreme Court Justice.
Elena Kagan won confirmation today by the Senate, on a vote of 63 to 37.
Senator Mark Begich joined with all but one of his Democratic colleagues in supporting her. Five Republicans crossed over to vote for her, but Senator Lisa Murkowski voted no.
Murkowski says her greatest concern is with Kagan’s lack of a record on gun rights issues.
I think one of the responses — and just kind of the background she had given — that struck me most was how little she conveyed in terms of understanding an historical appreciation of the 2nd amendment.
She is an academic, and so I had expected she would have that level of understanding, and she in fact conceded she did not. That surprised me.
But Senator Begich disagrees. He says Kagan made it clear she respects the right to bear arms.
I had a great conversation with her about second amendment rights. That even though it’s interesting, if you look to the Senate people heard different things. But I felt very comfortable with that. She recognizes court cases that have come forth that it’s clear to hear it’s settled law, which to me is something I wanted to hear her say, that it’s not a law still in question, meaning that people can enjoy a right to bear arms, their individual right. So I felt comfortable there.
Begich says when he met with Kagan in June, they talked about the Exxon Valdez court case, in which the Supreme Court dramatically lowered the damages Exxon had to pay to plaintiffs from an Alaska court decision of $5-Billion dollars to $500-million. The Senator calls that an overly activist move on the part of the Supreme Court.
The sense I got from her was — she didn’t say obviously cause she won’t go into those details — but I felt at end of the conversation she felt that was not the role, being activist, to sit there and try and create law on bench, but you should interpret law, as well as see what precedent has been set.
Begich says he also found Kagan receptive to learning more about Alaska’s unique environmental, development, and Alaska Native issues. He calls her “highly intelligent” and “extremely well-qualified.”
Murkowski agrees that Kagan is smart – and says she’s glad to see a fourth-ever woman reach the bench. But she’s critical that Kagan will join five other sitting Justices from the Northeastern states.
Kind of coming from the Boston-Washington corridor, going to the one of three law schools of choice, that’s not so important, although it does concern me that you don’t have any real appreciation of what it means to be in a rural part of the country. She was somewhat flip when she suggested does Chicago count when it comes to rural. Well no, it does not count.
Kagan grew up in New York City, and attended Princeton, Oxford, and Harvard Law School. She served as a policy advisor to President Bill Clinton, became dean of Harvard Law, and was Solicitor General under the Obama Administration.
Now that the Senate has confirmed her she will take the bench for the Supreme Court’s next term.