Clinton papers shed light on Kagan’s views

Role in abortion talks are detailed

By Julie Hirschfeld Davis
Associated Press / June 5, 2010

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WASHINGTON — As an aide to President Clinton, Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan helped defend her boss’s veto of a measure that would have banned late-term abortions with few exceptions, according to files handed over to Congress yesterday.

Kagan’s memos and notes — part of a 46,500-page batch of records released by the William J. Clinton Presidential Library — reveal her role as the administration was playing defense against a Republican Congress that was trying to limit abortion rights.

On the late-term abortion bill, “I support an exception that takes effect only when a woman faces real, serious health consequences,’’ Kagan handwrote on the draft of a letter Clinton was sending to a Catholic bishop dismayed by the veto.

That position angered both abortion rights proponents and foes.

But it was typical of a pragmatic streak in Kagan, President Obama’s choice to succeed retiring Justice John Paul Stevens, that is evident throughout the newly released records.

The files — whose release has been eagerly awaited by senators trying to find clues to what kind of justice Kagan might be — hint at some of Kagan’s policy views on issues that could crop up during her confirmation hearings.

She wrote in 1998 that encouraging a new federal law banning assisted suicide would be “a fairly terrible idea.’’

She expressed the opinion in a handwritten note during an internal administration debate over whether doctors in Oregon should be allowed to prescribe fatal drugs to help terminally ill patients commit suicide.

The papers also detail Kagan’s deep involvement in tough negotiations between liberal and conservative lawmakers on an ambitious — and ultimately unsuccessful — antismoking initiative.

She warned that slapping tough marketing restrictions on the tobacco industry as part of the measure might be unconstitutional.

“I’m not sure I buy the argument’’ by other administration officials that First Amendment concerns aren’t a serious issue, she jotted in the margin of a draft letter to a GOP senator on the subject. “We should enable the companies to agree on this.’’

It was an example of the middle course Kagan, former dean of Harvard Law School, was struggling to steer.