Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan is a funny lady. Facing a somewhat skeptical Republican contingent on the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday, Kagan slayed ’em in the aisles with a nearly nonstop stream of sarcasm and wit.
There were a lot of important issues discussed yesterday, and a lot of digging into Kagan’s legal philosophy. But the main takeaway from the first day of questions and answers for Kagan was the nominee’s ability to knock ’em dead.1. Christmas at the Kagans By far the funniest moment came when Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) asked Kagan where she was on Christmas Day last year. The question was actually a lead-in to talk of the foiled airline bombing attempt in 2009 and legal rights during war time, but Kagan took the opportunity to school Graham on some American Jewish tradition. From the transcript:
GRAHAM: Now, as we move forward and deal with law of war issues, Christmas Day bomber, where were you at on Christmas Day?
KAGAN: Senator Graham, that is an undecided legal issue, which — the — well, I suppose I should ask exactly what you mean by that. I’m assuming that the question you mean is whether a person who is apprehended in the United States is…
GRAHAM: No, I just asked you where you were at on Christmas.
KAGAN: You know, like all Jews, I was probably at a Chinese restaurant.
2. Hairy questions Some Senators didn’t know what to do with Kagan’s humor (while some, like Graham, rolled with it and turned the hearings into a sitcom at times.) Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) — not a man who has a lot to laugh about these days as it is — seemed stymied when Kagan turned his long chat about all the times he’s asked Supreme Court nominees about putting TV cameras in the Court chamber into a discussion about hair care.
SPECTER: I will put into the record what the justices have had to say. I’ve questioned almost everybody about this subject, and I’ve had the opportunity to question all of the people on the court now.
But there’s a lot — there are a lot of those who have been favorably disposed to it — or at least have acknowledged its inevitability — and remind them that they all appeared on television this year on C-SPAN, and most of them — many of them have appeared over the years selling books and being in a variety of situations.
KAGAN: It means I’d have to get my hair done more often, Senator Specter.
SPECTER: Let me commend you on…Let me commend you on that last comment. And I say that seriously. You have shown a really admirable sense of humor, and I think that is really important.
3. Play it again, Herb. Kagan can wield sarcasm like a pro, as Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI) found out when he tried to question Kagan about the 1995 book review where she wrote that the modern nomination process is, among other things, “vapid and hollow.” The article made a lot of appearances in the questioning yesterday, to the boredom of many — not the least of which was Kagan herself.
KOHL: Well, I think this is a good time to refer to your 1995 law review article in which you criticized the Supreme Court…
KAGAN: It’s been half-an-hour since I heard about that article.
4. Stop me if you’ve heard this Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Judiciary Committee chair Patrick Leahy (D-VT) slipped into some, uh, delightful partisan banter early on in the hearings yesterday. The two men have served together in the Senate for a long time, and sounded more than a little bit like an old married couple having the same fight for the umpteenth time. Kagan let the scene play out. (Leahy’s comments weren’t caught by the mics, but those of us in the room could hear him criticizing Hatch for cutting off Kagan mid-sentence.)
HATCH: Let me ask my questions the way I want to.
HATCH: I will. I’m going to be fair. I intend to be, and you know that after 34 years. [To Kagan] Go ahead, I — did you have something else you want to add?
KAGAN: No, go ahead.
HATCH: [About him and Leahy] We have to have a little back-and-forth every once in a while or this place would be boring as hell, I tell you.
KAGAN: And its gets the spotlight off me, you know, so I’m — I’m all for it. Go right ahead.
5. Sleep it off Kagan was brutally honest when Kohl took his turn to ask about televising Supreme Court hearings (which, it should be said, appears to be at least the third most important opinion Senators want from a nominee before they’ll consider her for the Supreme Court.)
KAGAN I have said that I think it would be a terrific thing to have cameras in the courtroom. And — and the reason I think is as — when you see what happens there, it’s an inspiring sight. I guess I talked about this a little bit in my opening statement yesterday.
I basically attend every Supreme Court argument. Once a month I argue before the court. When I’m not arguing, I’m sitting in the front row watching one — some member of my office or somebody else argue. And it’s an incredible sight. Because all of these — all nine justices, they’re so prepared, they’re so smart, they’re so thorough, they’re so engaged. The questioning is rapid fire. You’re really seeing an institution of government at work, I think, in a really admirable way.
So I think — and, of course, the issues are important ones. I mean, not — some of them will put you to sleep, you know.
Here’s an ABC News video compilation of some of the funniest moments from yesterday: