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WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama’s choice to become the third woman on the U.S Supreme Court faces her first vote on the nomination before a Senate panel dominated by Democrats who are all but certain to support her. The only real question is whether she will get any Republican votes.

As the Senate Judiciary Committee met Tuesday, Sen. Jeff Sessions, the panel’s top Republican member, said he would oppose Elena Kagan, saying she has placed her politics above the law, lacks experience and has activist judicial heroes.

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The Alabaman’s announcement was no surprise, and most Republicans are expected to join him in voting against the nomination to succeed retiring Justice John Paul Stevens.

Still, a handful of Republican senators might back her, and Democrats have more than enough votes to confirm her on the panel and when the nomination goes to the Senate floor.

Kagan, a 50-year-old New York native, has served as Obama’s top Supreme Court lawyer since last year. Stevens retired in June after more than 34 years on the court. Supreme Court justices often serve for life so their influence can extend well beyond the term of the president who nominates them.

So far, no Democrat has announced opposition to Kagan and no Republican has announced support. Sen. Lindsey Graham is considered the most likely Republican on the Judiciary panel to vote for Kagan’s confirmation.

Sessions offered extensive criticism of Kagan on Monday that left little doubt he would oppose her.

“I know that our nominee was articulate and had good humor and many thought she did very well with her testimony. I was not so impressed,” Sessions said on the Senate floor.

Democrats hope to confirm Kagan before the Senate’s August recess, well in time for the court term that begins in October.

Also Monday, Kagan responded to Republican questions that she would weigh stepping aside from hearing high court challenges to the new U.S. health care law on a case-by-case basis.

She was replying to a list of questions from committee Republicans about her involvement as the government’s top lawyer in defending the health law.

Kagan, Obama’s second Supreme Court nominee, was solicitor general while the health law was being passed and as states sued the federal government in March to challenge its constitutionality.

She told Republicans in written responses to 13 questions that she had no involvement in developing the government’s response to the lawsuit and never was asked her views or offered them.


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