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Law-school academics come out in support of Kagan for high court

By Bill Mears, CNN Supreme Court Producer
  • Broad coalition of law-school leaders backs Kagan
  • Letter from 69 deans to Senate committee is latest endorsement for her
  • Kagan's successor as dean of Harvard law says of nominee, "Mainstream sounds about right"

Washington (CNN) -- A broad coalition of law-school leaders have come out in strong support of Elena's Kagan's nomination to the Supreme Court. But three top academics -- speaking in a White House-organized briefing -- refused to talk about or defend her past views on a range of hot-button issues such as affirmative action and gun rights.

A letter from 69 deans was the latest endorsement from the legal and political community on behalf of the 50-year-old solicitor general. They touted her skills as an administrator, intellectual, and consensus builder when she was dean of the Harvard Law School from 2003-2009.

In that role, "She revealed a strong and consistent aptitude for forging coalitions that achieved smart and sensible solutions, often in the face of seemingly insoluble conflict," wrote the deans. "The same qualities that enabled her to unify what some described as a fractious campus will serve the nation, and the Constitution, well."

The letter was sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which start confirmation hearings for Kagan on June 28. Republicans on the committee have complained they have not had enough time to examine tens of thousands of documents from her service in the Clinton White House. Those records began being released in the past 10 days, and reveal the then-young lawyer as a politically shrewd policy pragmatist.

White House officials have tried to paint Kagan as a consensus pick, highlighting support for her from a number of conservatives. One of three deans who spoke in a White House conference call Tuesday with reporters was Joseph Kearney, of Marquette University Law School. He was a former law clerk to conservative Justice Antonin Scalia.

He said there was "no doubt" Kagan was in "the mainstream of judicial thought."

Kearney deferred speaking about Kagan's personal and professional views on issues that she might take on as a justice, but said her service as dean of a prestigious law school "demonstrates she is intellectually engaged with the law as it is today."

Martha Minow, who succeeded Kagan as Harvard's dean, also told reporters, "It's bunk to think she actually too far left or too far right. It's just not true. Mainstream sounds right."

Kagan was nominated May 10 by President Barack Obama to succeed the retiring Justice John Paul Stevens. She has no judicial experience, prompting concerns from both the political left and right over what kind of justice she would be on the nine-person bench.

Among other groups publicly supporting her nomination are the National Council of Jewish Women, the National Minority Law Group, and prominent conservative Washington attorney Miguel Estrada. He was a classmate of Kagan's at Harvard, and his own nomination by Presdient George Bush in 2001 to a federal appeals court seat failed, amid bitter partisan wrangling over his right-leaning views.

Several conservative groups have expressed strong concern Kagan would be a liberal rubber stamp for Obama, and would legislate from the bench.