TODAY   |  June 28, 2010

Senate begins Kagan confirmation hearings

Although she was easily confirmed last year for her current job as solicitor general, Elena Kagan will face much tougher questions as a Supreme Court nominee. NBC’s Pete Williams reports.

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MATT LAUER, co-host: It's a big day for the US Supreme Court . The confirmation hearings get under way for Elena Kagan , President Obama 's second nominee to the high court , as the current justices wrap up their latest term. NBC 's justice correspondent Pete Williams is at the Supreme Court . Pete , good morning to you.

PETE WILLIAMS reporting: Matt, good morning. Elena Kagan 's been listening to the Republican attacks for the past seven weeks; now she gets her chance to respond as the Senate begins considering whether she should be the third woman on the Supreme Court . Though she was easily confirmed just last year for her current job in the Justice Department as solicitor general, Elena Kagan will face much tougher questions now. Republicans say documents from her time as a legal and policy adviser to President Clinton show her more interested in partisan politics than the law.

Senator MITCH McCONNELL (Republican, Kentucky): The more we learn about Ms. Kagan 's work as a political adviser and political operative , the more questions arise about her ability to make the necessary transition from politics to neutral arbiter.

WILLIAMS: But legal scholars who support her nomination say giving policy advice back then was expected of her.

Mr. TOM GOLDSTEIN Elena Kagan isn't a political partisan. Her entire career she spent one year in a political position, and she seems to have just done her job then advising President Clinton about his agenda.

WILLIAMS: Republicans also accuse Kagan of treating the military unfairly when she was dean of Harvard Law School . She enforced an anti-discrimination policy that kept recruiters out of the school's placement center because of the Pentagon 's "don't ask, don't tell" rule.

Senator JEFF SESSIONS (Republican, Alabama): Instead of welcoming the military recruiters on campus, she punished them, relegating them to second-class status, even leading student veterans to arrange recruiter meetings off campus.

WILLIAMS: But student military veterans say she made them feel welcome at Harvard and praised them for their service even though she strongly opposed the policy on gays in the military . She's the first nominee in nearly 40 years with no experience as a judge. Republicans say they'll press her about that, too. But a Republican who once held the job she has now, solicitor general, the government's top courtroom advocate, says she's well qualified.

Mr. PAUL CLEMENT (Former Solicitor General): The solicitor general's working on the very same cases as the justices. She will be familiar with the rhythms of the court, the kind of cases that they get involved in.

WILLIAMS: Supporters hope the full Senate will confirm her by early August. Now, this is the last day of the Supreme Court 's term. We'll get a widely anticipated ruling on gun rights, whether the Second Amendment right to bear arms applies to the states and not just the federal government. And one other note here, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg 's husband of 56 years, Martin Ginsburg , died Sunday at age 78. Matt: