WASHINGTON — Republicans hunting for clues about what kind of justice Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan would be said Tuesday that they want to see papers from her time serving in the Clinton administration.
The focus on Clinton-era documents reflects the GOP's difficult task of turning up material that could power opposition to Kagan, the solicitor general who appears likely to be elevated to justice barring extraordinary developments during her confirmation process.
"It is a confirmation, it's not a coronation," said Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, which will hold hearings on Kagan's nomination.
"She's never been a judge. Never litigated cases except in the last few months as solicitor general. And so she lacks a good bit, frankly," Sessions said.
GOP leaders said that makes it even more important that they get their hands on documents she worked on while serving as an adviser for Bill Clinton from 1997 to 1999.
Kagan, 50, is to meet today with leaders of both parties as well as Sessions and Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., as she begins the delicate and closely watched ritual of making "courtesy calls" to the senators whose votes she'll need to win confirmation.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid defended Kagan Tuesday against GOP criticism that she's not qualified for the job.
Kagan "has fresh ideas. She's been out in the real world recently. I think she's going to be just a terrific addition to the Supreme Court," Reid, D-Nev., said on the Senate floor.
And he pointed out that one storied chief justice, William Rehnquist, was a GOP nominee who also came to the court without having first been a judge.
Because Kagan spent little time in court and never sat as a judge, she does not have the typical long history of court opinions and legal briefs. That has made it difficult to assess her legal acumen or ideology, and gives Republicans little ready ammunition to use against her.
Until now, though, senators haven't used judicial inexperience as a reason to oppose a president's nominee.
"It's a relatively new notion," said Russell Wheeler, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution, adding that "there has developed in this country the notion that the only recruitment pool for the Supreme Court is sitting judges, even though historically that's not been the case."
When Kagan was born in 1960, for example, five of the Supreme Court's nine justices had no previous judicial service. All nine current justices were appointed from other court positions.