WASHINGTON - Pressed by a key Republican, Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan Tuesday defended her treatment of military recruiters when she was Harvard Law School's dean and opposed the Pentagon's "don't ask don't tell" policy on gays.
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) kicked off the first day of questioning in her Senate hearing by grilling Kagan about the barring of those recruiters from the school careers office in the 2005 spring term. He accused her of breaking a law requiring them to have access to it.
But Kagan said that the school complied with the law and that the recruiters had access to students "every day I was dean," and actually increased recruitments through a campus veterans' group for that spring term.
"I respect, indeed I revere, the military," she said.
Kagan, 50, a native New Yorker and solicitor general, spent most of the day parrying repeated attempts by Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee to pin her down on her views as she often sidestepped questions, sometimes with humor.
Asked if she's for televising Supreme Court arguments, for example, she said she did, but she joked, "I'd have to get my hair done more often."
Kagan, who didn't often follow her own advice from a 1995 article to be forthcoming, described the approach she'd take to judging as "pragmatic."
"The question is what the law requires," she said, and it can be "difficult" to determine and "people can disagree about how the constitutional text or precedent apply to a case."
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) told Kagan the hearings were "showing the American people that you are the kind of person many of us believe you to be - thoughtful and practical and moderate."
Aside from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Kagan appeared not to win over most Republicans, who expressed skepticism about her testimony and said they saw her as a liberal. Sessions called her reply to queries about the military recruiters "unconnected to reality."
Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) tried to link her to views of judging expressed by President Barack Obama and Justice Thurgood Marshall, for whom she clerked. But she said, "If you confirm me to this position, you'll get Justice Kagan. You won't get Justice Marshall."
Kagan responded to questions about her support of gun control while a law clerk and presidential aide by calling the Supreme Court's recent 5-4 ruling that found the right to bear arms applies individually and to states as "settled law."
But she resisted efforts by both sides to draw her into their fight over the landmark 5-4 Citizens United decision that allows unlimited spending by corporations and unions on candidate campaigns.
Kagan argued the case as solicitor general, but said, "I want to make a clear distinction between my views as an advocate and any views that I might have as a judge."