WASHINGTON — Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan got a bipartisan boost yesterday when two key GOP senators said her lack of experience as a judge is no obstacle to becoming a justice.
Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and George S. LeMieux of Florida made their comments a day after the court’s conservative icon, Justice Antonin Scalia, undercut Republican criticism of Kagan’s lack of a judicial background.
Scalia’s remark, made during a lecture Wednesday at the federal courthouse in Washington, “helps her. Definitely, it helps her,’’ said Graham, a member of the Judiciary Committee, which will hold confirmation hearings on Kagan that are set to begin June 28. “I think that argument is not going to go very far.’’
LeMieux, who had a lengthy meeting with Kagan in the Capitol yesterday, also said judicial inexperience was not a concern.
“I don’t find that in any way a prohibition to her service,’’ LeMieux said. The first-term Floridian called Kagan intelligent, articulate, and “refreshingly forthcoming’’ on a variety of questions he posed, on subjects including free speech, guns, gay and lesbian rights, and abortion.
Both Graham and LeMieux said it was too early to tell whether they would vote to confirm Kagan, who drew seven Republican votes last year when she was confirmed as solicitor general. Before that, she was the dean of Harvard Law School.
Kagan, President Obama’s choice to succeed retiring Justice John Paul Stevens, has now met with half the Senate as she crisscrosses Capitol Hill introducing herself in advance of the hearings.
Republicans had expressed reservations over her lack of courtroom experience, which has made it difficult to discern Kagan’s legal views. She has stepped aside from her post as the government’s top lawyer in order to focus on the nomination.
But one of the GOP’s favorite justices said Kagan’s resume was a plus.
“I am happy to see that this latest nominee is not a federal judge — and not a judge at all,’’ Scalia said, in remarks first reported by ABC News.
GOP candidates for the House and Senate have raised $70 million from small donors this year, compared with $44 million brought in by Democratic candidates, according to a Washington Post analysis of campaign finance data.
The trend is another sign that Republicans have been able to turn their political momentum into money. Reports covering the first quarter already have shown that GOP candidates were closing the gap or exceeding Democrats in key races and that corporations have started to shift behind the party.
The giving also fits a pattern in which small contributors loyal to the opposition are more motivated to give while their party is out of power. The last time Republicans received more small donations than Democrats was during the 1998 midterms, when Democrat Bill Clinton held the presidency.
Instead of speaking at Arlington, as he did last year and as most presidents have done, Obama will appear at the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery outside Chicago, the White House said. Vice President Joe Biden will take his place at Arlington, the most prestigious military cemetery in the country and home to Section 60, a large burial ground for soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Paul Rieckhoff, the executive director and founder of the group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, expressed disappointment at the White House move. “Arlington is hallowed ground, and the center of our nation’s attention on Memorial Day,’’ he said. “Unfortunately, President Obama and his family will not be there with us.’’
Critics — mainly conservatives — have argued that attendance is more important with two wars still ongoing. “Obama may talk about the government in the first person, but the men and women lying at Arlington know differently,’’ commentator Eric Erickson wrote on the conservative site Redstate.com. “Of course, Obama really doesn’t like the military, does he.’’ Fox News blared the headlines: “Trampling on Tradition?’’ and “Offensive to Soldiers?’’
But other veterans say they’re not disturbed by Obama’s decision. “We don’t really see the big deal, so long as he’s taking the time to honor our fallen war heroes throughout Memorial Day weekend,’’ said Ryan Galluci, spokesman for AMVETS. “After all, it’s not groundbreaking for a sitting president to visit other national cemeteries or overseas America cemeteries over the holiday. Arlington is certainly not the only place our fallen heroes are buried, so why not pay your respects to veterans around the country?’’
Obama is not the first president to miss the ceremony at the 5,000-seat Arlington amphitheater. Ronald Reagan spoke at West Point one year, and went to his California ranch another year. George H.W. Bush, a war veteran, did not go at all. Bill Clinton — who did not serve in Vietnam and had a rocky time dealing with the military — went to Arlington all eight years, and George W. Bush, who also avoided combat service in Vietnam, attended from 2003 onward.