May 16, 2010 — -- TAPPER: Hello again. Breaking this morning, the White House has sent a letter to the National Archives, urging immediate release of 160,000 pages of documents from Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan's time in the Clinton White House. This comes as she heads to Capitol Hill this week for another round of meetings to shore up her support as Republicans increase her attacks against her.
Joining me this morning exclusively, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Democratic Senator Pat Leahy. He's at Lyndon State College in Vermont, where he will give the commencement address later today. And here with me in the studio, the top Republican from the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama. Thank you both, gentlemen, for joining me today.
Senator Leahy, I'll start with you. Just a quick question of timing. When do you expect these confirmation hearings to begin, around the end of June?
LEAHY: Well, I'm going to sit down this week with Senator Sessions. We'll work out a time. I think her questionnaire will probably come back in the next day or so, the questionnaire we sent from the Senate Judiciary Committee, and we'll work out a time.
Her predecessor, of course, was confirmed in two and a half weeks from the time he was nominated, Justice John Paul Stevens. I don't anticipate that, but we have a pretty good track record. Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Sotomayor ended up taking exactly the same amount of time, and we can follow a schedule roughly like that, we'll be done this summer.
TAPPER: While I have you, Senator Leahy, I want to ask you about an essay that Elena Kagan wrote for the University of Chicago Law Review in 1995, in which she criticized Supreme Court confirmation hearings. She said, they are, quote, "These hearings have presented to the public a vapid and hollow charade in which repetition of platitudes has replaced discussion of view points, and personal anecdotes have supplanted legal analysis."
Didn't she have a point? Haven't these hearings become in the last few decades a way for nominees to avoid answering questions on how they will rule on a specific issue?
LEAHY: Well, for one thing, I talked to her about that essay. She said I think I'm probably going to hear that quoted back to me a few times during the hearing. I said, starting with me. But you know, it's a doubled-edged sword. If you ask a nominee about certain burning issues of the day, they are issues that are probably going to go to the Supreme Court, and they have to be very careful not to say how they might rule on a case that's coming up. Otherwise they're going to have to recuse themselves and not be able to hear that case. On the other hand, there's only 100 people who get to vote on this lifetime nominee. We have to represent 300 million Americans, and so we have to ask as good questions as we can to make up our mind just how we're going to vote.
TAPPER: Senator Sessions, what do you want to ask her? What are you most interested in hearing from her?
SESSIONS: I think we'd like to know in a real honest sense whether her philosophy of law is so broad in her interpretation of the Constitution that you are not faithful to the Constitution and law. In other words, a judge under their oath says you serve under the Constitution, not above it. But we want to know whether she's faithfully will follow it even if she doesn't like it. And she did criticize a lack of specificity in some nominees. I thought John Roberts struck about the right tone, perhaps even more open -- was more open than Sotomayor, for example. So she's criticized the nominees and the process for not being more specific. I think we'll be looking at her testimony, because she has so little other record. This is going to be a big deal. It's so important how she testifies.