WASHINGTON - After more than two months in the national spotlight and over 17 hours of grueling committee testimony, Elena Kagan is poised to take one step closer to a permanent seat on the bench of the Supreme Court of the United States.
The 19-member Senate Judiciary Committee will vote Tuesday on Kagan's nomination for the high court, sending it to the full Senate for a final vote in August.
Tuesday's vote won't be a nail-biter; the committee is comprised of 12 Democrats and 7 Republicans, so Kagan's approval by the panel has always been considered virtually assured, barring a major gaffe or scandal.
During two days of testimony in June, Kagan won sparkling words of praise from Democratic lawmakers on the committee, including Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who flatly predicted that she will be confirmed to the high court. One Republican lawmaker, Sen. John Cornyn, even accidentally betrayed the widely-held expectation that she will eventually win confirmation, reportedly referring to the nominee at one point during the hearing process as "soon-to-be Justice Kagan."
Six of the seven Republicans on the panel have made it clear that they intend to oppose her. The possible holdout is Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.
Graham, who was the only Republican on the committee to support Kagan's nomination to become Solicitor General in 2009, bantered warmly with her during her most recent testimony before the committee. A prominent member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, he has spoken highly of Kagan's handling of military and national security issues while serving as the Obama administration's chief courtroom lawyer.
Graham has not yet announced whether he plans to break with his party and support Kagan, but he told reporters last week that he thought she "did a very good job" in the hearing.
"She handled herself well," he said.
Kagan also appears poised to win a thumbs up from every Democrat on the panel, although one senator – former Republican Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania – was sharply critical of Kagan's refusal to answer questions about her judicial philosophy during her Senate testimony.
Specter announced in a written statement last week that he will vote for Kagan because of her "sharp legal mind" and professional experience. But his announcement of support did not come before he verbally thumped her for doing "little to undo the impression that nominating hearings are little more than a charade in which cautious non-answers take the place of substantive exchanges."
Kagan "did just enough to win my vote," he said.
Here is a roundup of statements about Kagan from some of the other members of the Senate Judiciary Committee:
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.
"I believe she will ably fill the seat occupied for decades by Justice Stevens with dignity and honor. It is my hope that when the Supreme Court next convenes, three women will be serving together among the nine Justices. Solicitor General Kagan also demonstrated a traditional view about deference to Congress and judicial precedent, a view that conservatives used to embrace, and some still do. She indicated that she will not be the kind of Justice who would substitute her personal preferences and overrule congressional efforts to protect hardworking Americans pursuant to our constitutional role. Solicitor General Kagan made us one pledge, that she will do her 'best to consider every case impartially, modestly, with commitment to principle, and in accordance with law.'"
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah
"The law must control the judge; the judge must not control the law. I have concluded that, based on evidence rather than blind faith, General Kagan regrettably does not meet this standard and that, therefore, I cannot support her appointment. The fact that her experience is instead academic and political only magnifies my emphasis on judicial philosophy as the most important qualification for judicial service."
Senator Russ Feingold, D-Wisc.
"Solicitor General Kagan demonstrated a keen mind and a wide-ranging command of the law. I appreciated her efforts to improve the confirmation process, which she fairly criticized in an article more than a decade ago, by trying to answer Senators' questions as openly and comprehensively as possible. She has impressed me with her legal knowledge, thoughtfulness, and reputation for consensus building. I look forward to her confirmation as only the fourth woman in history to serve on our nation's highest court, and I expect she will serve with distinction for many years to come."
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.
"It is true that Kagan did not answer every question posed to her during her confirmation hearings. Her responses, however, provided a depth and honesty that places her in the forefront of questions answered by past nominees. I found her to be at least as forthcoming as any other nominee during my 17 years on the Committee."
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas
"Ms. Kagan’s testimony about her judicial philosophy was vague and open to multiple interpretations. She was unable to articulate limits on the federal Commerce Clause power. She did not rule out overturning the Supreme Court's recent decisions recognizing the importance of the Second Amendment. She backed away from her previous conviction that judicial nominees should be forthright about the direction they would move the courts. Also, Solicitor General Kagan lacks experience that could give us more insight into her judicial philosophy."
NBC's Ken Strickland contributed reporting.