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Kagan e-mails go public as hearings approach

Tens of thousands of pages of Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan's e-mails released Friday give a glimpse of how  as an aide to President Bill Clinton, her  job was often to place political considerations ahead of her policy views.
Elena Kagan
Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan walks to a meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington.Alex Brandon / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

As a Clinton White House aide, Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan called herself one of the Clinton administration's biggest fans of a law to protect religious freedom but warned then-Vice President Al Gore against endorsing it for fear of creating "a gay/lesbian firestorm."

In a 1999 e-mail, Kagan said the White House was meeting with religious and gay groups to try to smooth over their differences on the matter.

"We'll let you know as soon as it's safe to go back in the water," she wrote to Ron Klain, who was Gore's chief of staff and now holds the same job for Vice President Joe Biden.

The missive — one of tens of thousands of pages of Kagan's e-mails released Friday — shows how as an aide to President Bill Clinton, Kagan's job was often to place political considerations ahead of her policy views.

The e-mails also portray Kagan as a driven and highly opinionated person who has a flair for political tactics and little tolerance for high-flying rhetoric.

Shortly after Clinton gave his second inaugural address, Kagan e-mailed her boss, Bruce Reed, the director of the Domestic Policy Council, to say she thought one of the president's marquee lines quoting the prophet Isaiah was "the most preposterously presumptuous line I have ever seen."

The line — often referenced in discussions of mending racial discord — is "Thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations, and thou shalt be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of paths to dwell in."

Kagan tells Reed in the note that Clinton would deserve it if "the press really came down on him" for delivering it.

At the beginning of her stint as a domestic policy aide, Kagan described her management style to a colleague this way: "I want to be kept generally up to speed on everything. Thanks."

Later that year, she suggested transforming what was supposed to be a routine literacy event at a Maryland school into a chance to score points against the Republican Congress. At the time, administration was pushing for a national standardized test to measure student progress and the GOP was expected to try to block funding for the exam.

"We are in a fight for our lives on the testing initiative," Kagan wrote. "We cannot waste Sept. 8 on a sweetness-and-light literacy event. We're all going to have to work together to make this problem disappear."

The e-mails were part of the William J. Clinton Presidential Library's final release of documents related to Kagan's service as a domestic policy aide and White House counsel. The Senate Judiciary Committee requested the documents in preparation for its hearings on Kagan's nomination, scheduled to begin June 28.

It's the third week in a row the files were made public on a Friday afternoon — the customary time in official Washington for dribbling out unfavorable information or disclosures one hopes won't draw too much attention.

Another roughly 80,000 pages of paper files had been released previously, revealing Kagan's role in managing the scandals of the Clinton administration, her pragmatic streak dealing with complex issues such as tobacco regulation and her political instincts weighing in on issues such as abortion, gun control and drug sentencing.

The White House and Clinton have opted to keep a small fraction of the information private, allowing only Judiciary panel members and their top aides to see some documents and keeping secret anything of a strictly personal nature. But the 160,000 pages of information — including some 80,000 pages of e-mail — is far more than the committee received for other recent high court nominees.

"The evaluation of her record and qualifications has been the most open and transparent in history," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the Judiciary Committee chairman. "There is no chapter from her professional life for which we do not have significant records to review."

However Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said he was "concerned by both the pace and the timing of document production," adding that the documents have shown a "troubling pattern" about Kagan.

"Throughout her career, she has demonstrated a willingness to make legal decisions based not on the law but instead on her very liberal politics," Sessions said.

Before the latest documents were released, Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the minority leader, said the papers that have emerged so far make it more difficult to believe that Kagan could be an impartial justice.