Maine Senator Olympia Snowe lauds high court nominee Kagan

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan criticized a campaign finance ruling in a case she argued for the Obama administration and considers abortion rights to be settled law, according to a GOP senator who met with her Thursday.

Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe, asked whether Republicans could support Kagan, said the nominee “certainly has the qualifications, and certainly has, I think, the balance in her approach — at least so far — but I’d like to wait and see.”

In their private meeting, Kagan stressed the importance of judicial restraint and deference to Congress by the high court, and discussed abortion rights, Snowe said. The senator was one of seven Republicans who joined Democrats last year in voting to confirm Kagan as solicitor general, the top government lawyer who argues the administration’s cases before the Supreme Court.

Abortion rights supporters are concerned about a memo Kagan wrote as a White House aide in 1997 urging President Bill Clinton to back a ban on late-term abortions.

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Kagan, President Barack Obama’s choice to succeed the retiring Justice John Paul Stevens, visited senators in both parties ahead of hearings on her nomination that are set to begin June 28. The meetings included Democrats and two Republicans seen as potential supporters, Snowe and Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, who also voted for Kagan last time.

There appears to be little doubt for now that Kagan will win Senate approval, given that Democrats have more than enough votes and even her GOP critics have shown little appetite for blocking her. Kagan, 50, is using her Capitol Hill visits to answer senators’ questions about her background and views.

Snowe said Kagan was critical of the court for overreaching in its January ruling upholding the First Amendment rights of corporations and labor unions to spend money on campaign ads. “It should have been more narrowly decided than it was,” Snowe said, describing Kagan’s position in the case, Citizens United v. FEC, which was a high-profile defeat.

Snowe showed off a framed photograph in which she posed with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. “Something to look forward to,” she told Kagan. If confirmed, Kagan would be the third female justice on the court now — joining Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor — and the fourth woman ever to serve.

With confirmation hearings weeks away, Kagan is keeping a public silence. But documents the White House has submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee offering hints of Kagan’s personality and style.

In 2007, Kagan opined that the law sometimes allows things that are “just plain dumb.”

“Don’t think that law is everything,” she told a group of West Point cadets in a speech, reflecting on lessons she took away from her time serving Clinton.

“Even when the lawyers clear something, it may not be the right thing to do. It may be unethical, even if it’s not illegal,” she said. “Or it may just be plain dumb.”

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