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Kagan notes label KKK and NRA as 'bad guy' organizations

By Bill Mears, CNN Supreme Court Producer
U.S. Supreme Court nominee and Solicitor General Elena Kagan meets with senators on May 12.
U.S. Supreme Court nominee and Solicitor General Elena Kagan meets with senators on May 12.
  • NEW: White house rejects criticism, calls notes "preliminary research on legal questions"
  • NEW: NRA's director of public affairs calls notes "bizarre and outrageous"
  • William J. Clinton Presidential Library released notes last week
  • Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan's confirmation hearings begin June 28

Washington (CNN) -- A conservative magazine suggests Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan is "hostile" to gun owners, based on notes she wrote in the Clinton White House in 1996.

The notes were released last week by the William J. Clinton Presidential Library. Kagan worked in the White House Counsel's office in 1995 and 1996. Kagan, 50, was nominated to the high court May 10 by President Obama, and her confirmation hearings begin June 28.

The disclosure coincided with the release Friday afternoon of about 80,000 more documents.

A March 1996 document is likely to stir conservative anger. In it, she labeled the Ku Klux Klan and the National Rifle Association as "bad guy" organizations.

The issue was a pending bill, the Volunteer Protection Act, which gave some volunteer workers from a range of nonprofits a measure of liability protection from lawsuits. Kagan expressed concern that certain groups might be included in a "Cumulative List" of tax-exempt groups that would be covered under the proposed law.

Kagan addressed her handwritten thoughts, based on a conversation with Clinton aide Fran Allegra, who responded that day that neither the KKK nor the NRA was on the list provided by the Internal Revenue Service. Allegra gently advised his colleague, "We probably need to be careful about suggesting 'bad' organizations will qualify for the provision bill as it would suggest we are allowing 'bad' organizations to qualify for tax-exempt status." The measure was passed into law in 1997, but ultimately vetoed by Congress. Allegra is now a federal judge.

The National Review first reported about the notes, and asked on its website, "Is Kagan so hostile to gun rights that she would compare the top gun-rights organization in the United States with a viciously racist hate group?"

The White House issued a response Friday.

"Kagan's notes from a conversation with DOJ Attorney Fran Allegra track an earlier memo Allegra sent to her outlining which organizations would be shielded under volunteer and nonprofit liability legislation," said White House spokesman Ben LaBolt. "Allegra's memo notes that neither the KKK nor the NRA would be shielded from liability under the bill, after Democrats in Congress and others raised concerns that the provision swept too broadly. It's simply not credible to suggest that these jotted down notes represent anything but preliminary research on legal questions about what organizations would be covered under the legislation, and the organizations discussed reflect the public debate over the legislation at that time."

The guns rights group also reacted to the Kagan notes Friday.

"How can the NRA respond to something that bizarre and outrageous?" NRA's Director of Public Affairs Andrew Arulanandam said in an interview with CNN. "This is precisely the kind of stuff that needs to be aired out in the confirmation hearings, a complete airing out of where she stands on our issues."

Some 160,000 pages of documents are being reviewed from Kagan's four years in the Clinton White House, during which, in addition to being in the counsel's office, she also served as an adviser on the Domestic Policy Council from 1997 to 1999. Papers from those stints have been released the past two Fridays, revealing a lawyer with a politically tuned, pragmatic approach to issues like abortion, gun control and tobacco regulation.

The material is a prelude to Kagan's much-anticipated appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Republicans on the panel continue to express deep concern that the weekly document releases provide little time for members to explore her work as a government lawyer, and whether they offer any clues about how she might rule as a justice on the nation's highest court.

"We must be convinced that someone who has spent the better part of her career as a political advisor, policy advocate, and academic -- rather than as a legal practitioner or a judge -- can put aside her personal and political beliefs, and impartially apply the law, rather than be a rubberstamp for the Obama or any other Administration," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said in a floor speech Friday. "The Clinton library documents make it harder -- not easier -- to believe that Ms. Kagan could make that necessary transition."

The White House has fashioned a low-key campaign to get Kagan confirmed, trying to avoid any public controversy that could derail her elevation to a lifetime job on the bench. The Clinton-era documents have been released on Friday afternoons, and Fridays generally are slow news days.

Obama officials have refused to make Kagan available for interviews since her nomination, and she has spent her days meeting privately with senators and prepping for the hearings in a small office in the White House complex.

If confirmed, Kagan would succeed retiring Justice John Paul Stevens. Before stepping down from daily involvement, she was the administration's solicitor general, and personally argued six cases before the Supreme Court. She has no judicial experience, and conservative critics have been eagerly scanning Kagan's record in government service and academia for signs of her possible judicial philosophy.