WASHINGTON -- Reaching out to potential converts, Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan -- who told the Supreme Court on Monday that she is stepping aside as solicitor general during her confirmation process and that her deputywill serve as acting solicitor general -- is dropping carefully calculated hints about her judicial approach on issues ranging from political speech to national security.
Kagan isn't revealing much as she plods through a painstaking series of Capitol Hill meetings with the senators whose backing she needs for confirmation. But the 50-year-old has weighed in cautiously on several issues as she strives to paint a fuller picture of what kind of a justice she might be.
Take, for example, her closed-door exchange last week with Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., who voted against Kagan's solicitor general nomination on the grounds she wouldn't talk about her legal views.
Kagan made clear that she disagreed with a recent Supreme Court ruling that has provoked intense partisan debate, according to Specter. She criticized the court's January ruling upholding the First Amendment rights of corporations and labor unions to spend money on campaign ads, thus enhancing their ability to influence federal elections.
In commenting on a case, Kagan was breaking with tradition. Judicial nominees rarely if ever weigh in on a ruling on the grounds that it could come before them in the future.
Kagan's recent comment was sure to appeal to Democrats and middle-of-the-road Republicans who oppose the ruling, but might also appeal to conservatives who favor judicial restraint.
"You have to walk a thin line down the middle," said Tom Korologos, a veteran chaperone of Republican nominees to the high court.
Kagan likely already has crossed that line in the eyes of some GOP critics. The Senate's top Republican blasted her Monday for her position on the Citizens United case, saying it amounted to a rationale for allowing the government to stifle free speech.
"No government should have that much deference," Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said.