WASHINGTON — A senior House Democrat said Tuesday that senators should fully question Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan to make sure she supports abortion rights, in light of her previous backing for limiting late-term abortions.
In a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Rep. Louise Slaughter of New York said she views as "troubling" a 1997 memo Kagan wrote urging then-President Bill Clinton to back a ban on all abortions of viable fetuses except when the physical health of the mother was at risk.
Slaughter, the co-chair of the House Pro-Choice Caucus, wrote that the lack of a judicial record for Kagan, who has never been a judge, makes it imperative that the committee scrutinize her abortion views.
Kagan, President Obama's choice to succeed retiring Justice John Paul Stevens, was a domestic policy adviser to Clinton when she wrote the memo Slaughter cited. That memo is part of a trove of documents, most of them unreleased, at the Clinton presidential library in Little Rock, Ark.
In the 1997 memo, Kagan urged Clinton to support a ban on late-term abortions, a political compromise that put the administration at odds with abortion-rights groups. Kagan and her boss, Bruce Reed, told the president that he should support the ban because it might help him avoid even stricter language from a Republican-led Congress. Clinton supported it, but the proposal ultimately failed and Clinton vetoed a stricter Republican ban.
Slaughter raised her concerns as the White House delivered to Capitol Hill Kagan's lengthy response to a Judiciary Committee questionnaire, including cartons of new documents from her past that could shed light on her views and legal approach.
Her handwritten notes from a May 2009 speech offer some insight into how Kagan approached her job as solicitor general — and a potential answer to GOP critics who have suggested she would be a Supreme Court rubber stamp for Obama's policies.
"My client is not the president — it is the United States — and while the president sometimes speaks on behalf of this client, Congress does as well, where there's a statute at issue," Kagan wrote.
The papers also reveal that Obama's team first contacted Kagan about serving on the Supreme Court more than a month before Stevens announced his intent to retire. Vice President Joe Biden was arranging his first job interview with Kagan for the post two days before Stevens went public with his plans.