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Kagan in her own words

elenakaganElena Kagan’s nomination for solicitor general is set to go before the senate for a confirmation vote this week.  The Senate Judiciary Committee has published a series of supplemental answers submitted by Kagan in response to several members’ questions. Some excerpts follow.

On the death penalty:

“I am fully prepared to argue, consistent with Supreme Court precedents, that the death penalty is constitutional. As Solicitor General, I would represent the interests of the United States, as expressed in legislation and executive policy. Like other nominees to the Solicitor General position, I have refrained from providing my personal opinions (except where I previously have disclosed them), both because these opinions will play no part in my official decisions and because such statements of opinion might be used to undermine the interests of the United States in litigation. But I can say that nothing about my personal views regarding the death penalty (relating either to policy or law) would make it difficult for me to carry out the Solicitor General’s responsibilities in this area.”

On Kennedy v. Louisiana, in which the Supreme Court held that imposing the death penalty for child rape violates the Eighth Amendment:

“I do not think it comports with the responsibilities and role of the Solicitor General for me to say whether I view particular decisions as wrongly decided or whether I agree with criticisms of those decisions. The Solicitor General must show respect for the Court’s precedents and for the general principle of stare decisis. If I am confirmed as Solicitor General, I could not frequently or lightly ask the Court to reverse one of its precedents, and I certainly could not do so because I thought the case wrongly decided. There are circumstances, however, in which the Solicitor General properly can petition the Court to reconsider a decision. Relevant to this inquiry are whether a rule of law has been found unworkable, whether subsequent legal developments have left the rule an anachronism, or whether premises of fact are so far different from those initially assumed as to render the rule irrelevant or unjustifiable. The last of these factors would seem the one most potentially relevant to the Kennedy v. Louisiana decision. But I currently do not know enough about this decision or the facts and circumstances surrounding it to say whether I would ask the Court to reconsider it if I were confirmed as Solicitor General; nor would I make this determination without going through the extensive process that the Solicitor General’s office typically uses in such cases.”

On other Court decisions, including the Second Amendment handgun ban case D.C. v. Heller:

“As noted earlier, the Solicitor General owes important responsibilities to the Court, one of which is respect for its precedents and for the general principle of stare decisis. I do not think it would comport with this responsibility to state my own views of whether particular Supreme Court decisions were rightly decided. All of these cases are now settled law, and as such, are entitled to my respect as the nominee for Solicitor General. In that position, I would not frequently or lightly ask the Court to reverse one of its precedents, and I certainly would not do so because I thought the case wrongly decided.”

On judicial activism, and whether the courts should take an active role in policy creation:

“I do not agree with this view. I think it is a great deal better for the elected branches to take the lead in creating a more just society than for courts to do so.”

On what she would do if she disagrees with the president of attorney general on what position to take on a case:

” If I am confirmed and I disagree with the President on the position to take in a case for which the Solicitor General’s office is responsible, I would do my best to persuade him of the correctness of the office’s views or the appropriateness of deferring to the office. (I believe that if the disagreement were with the Attorney General, a natural step would be to appeal to the President.) If the disagreement were to continue, I would consider the nature of the case, the nature of the disagreement, and the full range of ways to deal with the disagreement. I should clarify here that the critical question is not what would happen if I “personally” disagree with the President, because my personal views would be irrelevant; the critical question is what would happen if the President and I were to disagree on the position that will advance the long-term interests of the United States, which is the Solicitor General’s client. That is the only basis on which I would act as Solicitor General, and so that is the only ground on which disagreement between myself and the President might present itself. If I believe this disagreement goes to a highly material matter – a matter, for example, that would involve me in failing to fulfill my essential obligations to the Court or Congress – I would have to resign my office. Needless to say, I do not foresee any significant likelihood that this will happen. But I believe the Solicitor General needs to be able to walk away from the job when her assessment of her role and the obligations attendant on that role differs significantly from those of the President.”

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