Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan yukked it up with Senate Judiciary members in the second day of her hearing Tuesday, using an unusual number of jokes that seemed to soften her interrogators between serious exchanges.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has been a critic of the Justice Department's handling of the "Christmas Day bomber" case, where the suspect is accused of trying to detonate a bomb on a Detroit-bound plane last year. Graham asked Kagan where she was on Christmas.
"Like all Jews, I was probably at a Chinese restaurant," Kagan said.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, after a dustup with Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy over questions, noted that the exchanges prevented the hearing from becoming "boring as hell."
"It gets the spotlight off me, you know, so I'm all for it," Kagan retorted.
Read a memorandum in which she faulted former Reagan Solicitor General Charles Fried, Kagan expressed dismay at criticizing "my good friend," exclaiming in mock distress, "Sorry, Charles."
Asked to assess Democratic charges of judicial activism under Chief Justice Roberts, Kagan said she "would not want to characterize the current court in any way. I hope one day to join it."
When faulted for her praise of former Israeli Supreme Court President Aharon Barak, Kagan noted her remarks came when introducing him at Harvard University. She assured the senators she would have offered equally fulsome praise if they visited the school.
Amid testy questioning from Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., who was frustrated by Kagan's refusal to weigh in on the current court's treatment of congressional prerogatives, Kagan said that if she is confirmed, inclusion of cameras in the court, which Specter backs, would force her to get her hair done more often.
Momentarily thrown, Specter remarked, seriously, on the value of Kagan's "sense of humor."
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., could not refrain from weighing in on the Chinese restaurants - "They are the only restaurants open." He suggested Kagan could rival Justice Antonin Scalia as the funniest Supreme Court member.
The joking rubbed off on senators.
Leahy told Kagan he enjoyed her "ethnic" humor.
When Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, questioned Kagan about her master's thesis, Kagan noted her lack of legal experience at the time, prompting Grassley to joke, "If I accept your answer, it's going to spoil the whole five minutes I had here."
This article appears in the July 3, 2010, edition of National Journal Daily.