WASHINGTON - The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 13-6 Tuesday to approve the nomination of native New Yorker Elena Kagan to be a Supreme Court justice.
The nomination now will go to the full Senate, where Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said he will set a vote before the August recess begins.
A year ago, the Senate confirmed Kagan as the first female solicitor general in a 61-31 vote.
If approved as a justice, as expected, Kagan would take the place of long-serving Justice John Paul Stevens, who retired in June.
During the debate before the committee vote, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) led the opposition to Kagan, calling her a political lawyer who offered spin rather than clear answers to the committee. He and other Republicans particularly targeted her actions as Harvard Law School dean in temporarily barring military recruiters from the school's recruitment office over the military's "don't, ask don't tell" policy on gay service members.
Sessions harshly criticized Kagan's testimony on those actions, calling it "at best inaccurate, at worst intellectually dishonest."
Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) said Kagan has "a far-left ideological belief," while Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) scored her for her actions in favor of abortion rights and gun control as a Clinton White House counsel and policy aide.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) praised Kagan as "intelligent, thoughtful, mainstream and moderate."
He bemoaned her timing as a nominee, coming as it does in a divided political atmosphere just months before the midterm elections.
Yet Schumer cited her hiring of conservatives when dean of the liberal Harvard Law School.
"At Harvard, she bridged deep divides among the law school's faculty," Schumer said. "We need her to do the same for this sectarian court."
Graham, as he did in breaking with his party to vote for Justice Sonia Sotomayor last year, voted for Kagan - again citing the prerogative of a president to make appointments to the court.
Graham, a former military lawyer, downplayed the military recruitment issue and called Kagan "a loyal American."
He acknowledged that as a conservative, he disagreed with her views as a liberal, but said she's qualified for the court.
"I'm going to vote for her," Graham said, "because the last election has consequences."