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Kagan heads back to the Hill for whirlwind visits

Julie Hirschfeld Davis

Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan returned to Capitol Hill Thursday to meet with senators who are key to her confirmation.

The solicitor general, preparing for meetings with Republicans and Democrats, including one who has opposed her in the past, said she's beginning to get accustomed to the delicate ritual of closely watched courtesy calls she must make in the run-up to her summer confirmation hearings.

Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, her first visit of the day, asked Kagan whether she's "getting used to this little routine."

"Just barely," Kagan responded with a smile.

Kagan, 50, called on eight senators Wednesday and plans meetings with another seven today. That includes one former foe, Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., who as a Republican voted last year against confirming her to her current post.

Kerry said he was "very proud" of Kagan, adding that she has "quite a road yet to travel."

In closed-door meetings, Kagan has assured senators that she's up to the job of being a justice, seeking to counter GOP criticism of her lack of experience as a judge or courtroom litigator. President Barack Obama tapped Kagan this week to succeed retiring Justice John Paul Stevens.

Kagan has gotten off to a fast start on Capitol Hill. Shuttling from office to office Wednesday, she stayed quiet in public but fielded questions in private about her resume, opinions and legal philosophy.

Kagan, a former Harvard Law School dean, defended herself against Republican doubts about her fitness to be a fair justice. She said she'd be "faithful to the law," according to Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., who said he asked her whether she could be impartial given that she's identified with "liberal" positions and has clerked for two judges he called "activist."

Sessions, the top Republican on the Judiciary panel that will hold Kagan's confirmation hearings, said he'd do his best to give her a "fair" hearing, and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the committee chairman, said he'd guarantee a process where senators could ask "all relevant questions."

Republicans are questioning whether Kagan can be impartial in light of her political views and current position on Obama's team. And they have harshly criticized her decision while at Harvard to bar military recruiters from campus because she disagreed with the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gay soldiers.

GOP senators say they want to see documents from her time serving in Bill Clinton's White House to get a better understanding of her fitness for the Supreme Court.

"I think all the documents that are producible should be produced," Sessions said. "The American people are entitled to know what kind of positions she took, and what kind of issues she was involved with during her past public service."

Democrats praise Kagan as a highly qualified, sharp legal mind who will bring an important perspective from outside the federal bench to the job of justice.

"She brings to this court that kind of intellect and those values that can make a positive difference for the future of the court," said Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois.

The Associated Press