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White House confident of high court nominee days before hearings

By Bill Mears, CNN Supreme Court Producer
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Senior White House aide says Elena Kagan will win approval from Senate
  • Kagan has been preparing with mock question-and-answer sessions
  • Urban League and American Bar Association among groups backing her
  • Military Families United seeks explanation of her action as dean of Harvard Law School

Washington (CNN) -- Top White House officials expressed confidence Friday that Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan will earn the respect and votes of senators during her confirmation hearings, which begin next week.

In a conference call with reporters, senior political aide David Axelrod dismissed suggestions Kagan's lack of judicial experience and political service in two Democratic administrations will hurt her chances to sit on the high court.

"We know it's an extremely polarized political climate, and we are preparing to make a vigorous case," for her confirmation, he said. "We are prepared and she is certainly prepared to respond. And we anticipate once the hearings are done, she'll take her seat on the court."

Kagan, 50, was nominated by President Barack Obama on May 10 to replace retiring Justice John Paul Stevens.

White House Counsel Bob Bauer, who is coordinating the nomination process, said Kagan has been preparing with mock sessions with staffers and attorneys brought in by the administration. The goal is to help her anticipate the kinds of questions she can expect from senators.

The sessions -- known as "murder boards" for the intensity of some of the prep questions -- have been held several hours a day for the past week or so, Bauer said.

"I attended a session with her yesterday, and I simply marvel at what she will bring to the hearings," he told reporters.

The nominee earned the support Friday of the Urban League, to go along with endorsements from other left-leaning groups. The American Bar Association also has given her its highest rating, "well qualified." The group scrutinizes every federal judicial nominee.

Axelrod and Bauer noted the nominee also has earned support from some conservatives, including three former solicitors general from Republican administrations. Kagan is the current solicitor general, the top lawyer who argues before the Supreme Court.

But a military family advocacy group Friday questioned Kagan's well-reported opposition to having military recruiters on the Harvard Law School campus, when she was dean from 2003-09. This was in response to the Pentagon's "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays in the military, which Kagan had labeled "a moral injustice of the first order."

"We find Ms. Kagan's failure to offer support to our military in a time of war and her willingness to defy federal law as troubling and appalling," said Military Families United, in a statement to the Judiciary Committee. "Thousands of military families, if not all Americans, deserve to hear an explanation of her actions."

The Supreme Court in 2006 ruled in favor of the military in a lawsuit brought by several universities over the recruiting controversy.

Kagan has met with 62 senators since her nomination, courtesy calls in anticipation her hearings. That is far fewer than the 92 lawmaker visits by Sonia Sotomayor before she was elevated to the high court last year.

Axelrod said Obama is "extraordinarily proud" of Kagan, and noted the words over the Supreme Court's building: "Equal Justice Under Law," which he said means "everyone gets a fair shot before the court. The president believes in that deeply and he know Elena believes in that deeply."

 
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