GOP will try to paint Kagan as liberal activist 

Elena Kagan's Supreme Court nomination rounds so far have been relatively low-key. That changes Monday, when her confirmation hearing starts.

The White House says that Kagan is ready. And the Republicans are ready, too -- having scoured her background, opinions and qualifications.

"This is not a coronation," said Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee. "This nominee has a number of controversial items in her background that raise questions."

Making the rounds in the Senate, Kagan at the end of last week had met with 62 members since President Obama nominated her on May 10.

Kagan has won a range of endorsements, including from Republican former solicitors general, conservative law school deans and professional organizations. Still, the modern nominations process is inevitably political -- and this is an election year.

"It is a highly charged partisan environment," said David Axelrod, senior adviser to the president. "There is going to be enormous pressure, political pressure, to divide up on a partisan basis."

Kagan is expected to face tough questioning about her views on gay rights, gun rights, campaign finance and more.

Opponents have characterized her as a liberal activist -- more politician than jurist. That's a line of attack that particularly annoys Axelrod.

"It just feels as if we have an opposition in search of a rationale," Axelrod said. "They've jumped from one thing to another, never really sustaining the argument, the latest of which we've heard in the last couple of days that she's a politician and not someone suited for the court."

For Republicans, the issue is largely that Kagan seems too liberal, in lots of ways. Among other things, Kagan worked for former President Bill Clinton from 1995 to 1999, first in the Office of the White House Counsel, then on the Domestic Policy Council.

A graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School, Kagan, 50, clerked for the late Justice Thurgood Marshall. She worked in private practice, taught at the University of Chicago Law School and left there to work for Clinton.

After Washington she went back to Harvard to teach, and eventually became dean of the law school. In 2008, Obama nominated Kagan to serve as solicitor general.

Documents released from her stint in the White House "reveal a woman who was committed to advancing a political agenda -- a woman who was less concerned about objectively analyzing the law than the ways in which the law could be used to advance a political goal," said Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

"These memos and notes reveal a woman whose approach to the law was as a political advocate -- the very opposite of what the American people expect in a judge, McConnell said.

White House Counsel Bob Bauer signaled the administration plans to heavily promote Kagan's background, demeanor and range of endorsements -- including from members of the Federalist Society -- in pushing back against claims she's too liberal.

"I think it's going to be an illuminating process," Bauer said.

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