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Kagan starts individual meetings with senators

WASHINGTON - Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan defended herself yesterday against Republican charges she's not fit to be a justice as she met for the first time with senators who hold the key to her confirmation.

Publicly silent as she made the rounds on Capitol Hill, Kagan sought during a series of private meetings to beat back GOP suggestions that she'd be a liberal rubber stamp for President Barack Obama, who named her Monday to succeed retiring Justice John Paul Stevens.

"She's been politically active throughout her life, she's identified with the American liberal position, she clerked for two activist judges," said Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the top Republican on the Judiciary panel that will hold nomination hearings.

Sessions said he asked Kagan during a lengthy meeting whether she understood she might be called upon as a justice to issue rulings that might disappoint her "fans and supporters."

Kagan, the solicitor general, responded "that she would be faithful to the law, but of course every nominee says that," Sessions said. "Some of our most activist judges have said that."

Senators in both parties promised a fair confirmation process. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) pledged as he welcomed her to the Capitol to make it "as smooth as possible."

Barring a surprise, Kagan, 50, is likely to be confirmed this summer by a Senate in which Democrats have more than enough votes to prevail and Republicans are showing little appetite for a Supreme Court showdown.

Still, the debate is virtually certain to become a forum for the two parties to battle over the direction of the court and hot-button legal issues from abortion to political speech.

Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, said Kagan must prove that her current post on Obama's team wouldn't skew her rulings to favor his policies.

"Americans want to know that Ms. Kagan will be independent, that she won't prejudge cases based on her personal opinions, that she'll treat every one equally, as the judicial oath requires," McConnell said.

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