Washington, DC—Nevada Senator Harry Reid made the following remarks on the Senate floor today to support confirmation of Solicitor General Elena Kagan to become the next Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. The Senate voted to confirm Ms. Kagan by a vote of 63-37 this afternoon. Below are Senator Reid’s remarks as prepared for delivery:
“Decades before America’s founding – when its direction was only roughly charted and its doctrines still in draft form – a lawyer from Massachusetts wrote that ours must be a nation of laws, and not of men.
“That man, John Adams, knew that the rules and rights of a free land must withstand personal whims and political winds. It is a belief so basic, Adams would later enshrine it in his state’s Constitution.
“Today we will send to our highest court another brilliant lawyer from Massachusetts, Elena Kagan, someone whose respect for the rule of law is matched only by her appreciation for how those laws concern the daily lives of the people they govern.
“The roots of General Kagan’s respect for the rule of law are in her respect for our separation of powers. It is a reverence she developed during her service in all three branches of government, defending the First and Second Amendments, strengthening our national security and protecting children’s safety.
“Wherever Elena Kagan has gone throughout her considerable career, she has succeeded. At Princeton and Oxford, at the law schools at Harvard and the University of Chicago and back to Harvard once again, in the private sector and at the highest levels of government, she has brought together people of every ideological stripe.
“In recent weeks we have again seen how effectively she impresses and unites those she meets. Just look at the incredibly diverse array of people and organizations speaking in unison in favor of her nomination, including every Solicitor General, no matter the party, over the last quarter century.
“Now she is poised to join a Court whose power she respects as well as its limits. She understands that laws are made only on this side of the street, and only interpreted on the other.
“Our Supreme Court promises equal justice for all who come before its bench. We must also fulfill the promise of greater equality among those who sit behind it.
“Though the founders did not want ours to be a government of men, for a long time men were the only ones running it. The most qualified women were turned away one after another.
“Justice O’Connor graduated third in her law school class at Stanford while peers her age were just finishing college. But the only job offer she got upon graduating was as a legal secretary.
“Justice Ginsburg graduated first in her law school class at Columbia, but not a single law firm would hire her, either. She was denied a clerkship by not one but two Supreme Court Justices because, as they readily admitted, she was a woman.
“It took nearly 200 years before the Court welcomed Sandra Day O’Connor as its first woman, and more than a decade longer before Ruth Bader Ginsburg would join her as its second. A year ago today, Ginsburg was the only woman Justice. But when it opens this fall, three women – a full third of the bench – will preside together for the first time.
“That’s progress. It’s not yet completely equitable in a nation where women represent more than half the population, but it’s progress.
“That Sotomayor and Kagan can join the Court in such relatively rapid succession is a tribute to the path their predecessors cleared.
“Justice Ginsburg said last year that ‘women belong in all places where decisions are being made.’ The Supreme Court is certainly one of those places, and Elena Kagan is certainly one of those women. And as the Senate votes for this nominee on her merits, we are also voting for the most inclusive Court in its long history. It will be even more inclusive when we confirm more Justices who don’t come from the Ivy League.
“In the oath General Kagan will soon take – the same oath sworn by one hundred and eleven justices before her – she will pledge to ‘do equal right to the poor and to the rich.’
“That is a commitment her predecessor, Justice John Paul Stevens, always fulfilled. We are grateful for Stevens’ long record of service – as a decorated veteran, a successful lawyer, and an impartial judge and justice who summoned common sense in his opinions. He was always passionate, but always a gentleman.
“Stevens once wrote that ‘Corporations are not part of ‘We, the People,’ by whom and for whom our Constitution was established.’ General Kagan believes that, too. It is the principle she defended in her first case as our first female Solicitor General – that is, our country’s chief lawyer – when she fought to stop foreign and domestic corporations from drowning out American voters’ voices.
“She knew it would not be an easy case. But she stood up for fairness, transparency and citizens’ rights because that is what a nation of laws demands.
“General Kagan learned from another trailblazing Justice and her personal hero, Thurgood Marshall, that behind the law live real people. She knows that the Court’s rulings can affect working families as intimately as they do wealthy interests.
“The American people deserve a Justice who understands that one litigant’s case is no more justified simply because he has more money than his opponent. Elena Kagan will be that Justice.
“We need a voice on the Supreme Court who remembers and reveres the rights of individuals – not because people are always right and corporations are always wrong – but because the argument of even the poorest citizen should be heard just as loudly, with the same patience and with the same impartiality as that of the richest firm. Elena Kagan has demonstrated time and again that she understands that, too.
“In fact, listening is one of her strong suits. Justice Stevens often said that openly debated differences benefit democracy, and he promoted what he called ‘understanding before disagreeing.’ The lawyer and teacher the President has chosen to succeed Justice Stevens believes the same.
“When General Kagan spoke last year to graduates at Harvard Law, where she was beloved by students and faculty alike, she reminded them that ‘You only learn something when your ears are open, not when your mouth is open.’
“That shows wisdom. It takes a smart person to recognize that we make progress and make the right decisions when we approach each person and each problem with an open mind. It takes a smarter one to say as much.
“So I hope each Senator will approach this vote the way General Kagan will approach each question that comes before the Court: with deference to facts, the evidence and our shared national interest.
“General Kagan is a public servant who has remained far above the political fray, and will be the only Justice who comes from outside the judicial monastery. She is a student and teacher of the law who looks up from her books out into the real world.
“And she knows that while we are a nation of laws and not of men, the former has a genuine and personal impact on the lives of the latter.
“Because of her intellect and integrity; her reason, restraint and respect for the rule of law; her unimpeachable character and unwavering fidelity to our Constitution, I am proud to cast my vote for her confirmation.”