President Obama has formally nominated Solicitor General Elena Kagan for a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court to replace retiring Justice John Paul Stevens. If confirmed, Kagan will be the first justice in nearly forty years who has no judicial experience.
President Obama: "Elena is widely regarded as one of the nation’s foremost legal minds. She is an acclaimed legal scholar with a rich understanding of constitutional law. She is a former White House aide with a lifelong commitment to public service and a firm grasp of the nexus and boundaries between our three branches of government. She is a trailblazing leader, the first woman to serve as dean of Harvard Law School and one of the most successful and beloved deans in its history, and she is a superb solicitor general, our nation’s chief lawyer representing the American people’s interests before the Supreme Court."
During a brief ceremony at the White House on Monday, Elena Kagan expressed her love for the law.
Elena Kagan: "I am proud of what all of us accomplished there. And through most of my professional life, I’ve had the simple joy of teaching, of trying to communicate to students why I so love the law, not just because it’s challenging and endlessly interesting — although it certainly is that — but because law matters, because it keeps us safe, because it protects our most fundamental rights and freedoms, and because it is the foundation of our democracy."
The Senate Judiciary Committee’s confirmation hearings probably will start in late June or early July. On Monday Senate Judiciary Chair Patrick Leahy of Vermont voiced support for the selection of Kagan.
Sen. Patrick Leahy: "I’m glad to see somebody from outside the judicial monastery. Again, in our history, it’s only in recent decades that the justices were all from the federal courts. We had — some of our most dynamic courts have been those where they came from different backgrounds. I worry when you’re in a judicial monastery that you don’t have the kind of real-world experience you might have otherwise."
Elena’s Kagan nomination has divided many progressive Democrats in part because so little is known about her judicial views. On Monday CNN analyst Jeffrey Toobin said, "her own views were and are something of a mystery." Toobin is a longtime friend of Kagan and former classmate at Harvard Law.
On Monday, the Associated Press revealed that in 1997 Elena Kagan urged then-President Clinton to support a ban on late-term abortions. At the time, Kagan was a White House adviser.
Meanwhile, Elena Kagan’s record as dean of Harvard Law School is coming under scrutiny. A group of law professors have openly questioned Kagan’s diversity record at Harvard. During her time as dean, Kagan made thirty-two tenured and tenure-track academic hires. Of these thirty-two, only one was a minority, and only seven were women.
Patches of oil washed ashore in Port Eads, Louisiana on Monday as the oil spill from the BP rig continues to spread in the Gulf. Large brownish reddish globs of oil were seen on the sand and in reeds on the marshland. Marine biologist Rick Steiner collected several samples of the oil globules found on a beach.
Rick Steiner: "The big story here is that finally oil from the Deepwater Horizon blowout forty miles offshore has reached the southern tip of the Mississippi Delta. It’s here on land. It’s coming up in small globules so far, and the response workers are doing what they can on it, but it’s here. It’s going to continue. And I think it’s the sad state of what we’re in store for down here for the next several months."
The oil spill will be center stage on Capitol Hill today as oil industry officials face questioning from the Senate’s energy and environment committees.
On Monday, BP restarted operations to stream dispersants directly into the main Gulf of Mexico oil leak despite fears the chemicals could themselves be harmful to the environment. The chemical makeup of the dispersants is kept secret, and the Environmental Protection Agency has acknowledged the effects of the chemicals are still widely unknown. Environmentalists, shrimpers and fishers worry that the dispersant will kill fish and other organisms in the seafood chain.
New tests conducted by the Louisiana Environmental Action Network reveal that the levels of airborne chemicals in the region are exceeding state limits. Hydrogen sulfide has been detected at concentrations more than 100 times greater than the level known to cause physical reactions in people. In another development related to the oil spill, the Sunday Times of London reports the owner of the oil rig that exploded, Transocean, has made a $270 million profit from insurance payouts for the disaster.
In Iraq, at least 119 people died in a series of bomb blasts on Monday, making it Iraq’s deadliest day so far this year. Bombs hit at least ten cities and towns, including Baghdad, Hilla and Basra. Iraqi officials said al-Qaeda in Iraq carried out the deadly attacks in response to the killings and arrests of some of the group’s senior figures.
The International Committee of the Red Cross has confirmed to the BBC that the US is running a secret prison at the US airbase at Bagram in Afghanistan. Nine former prisoners have told the BBC that they were held in the secret site. Many former prisoners refer to the secret jail as the "black jail." Prisoners reported being subjected to sleep deprivation, freezing temperatures and other abuses. The US has denied the existence of the secret prison.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has arrived in Washington for talks with President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Karzai is traveling with twelve cabinet ministers and several other high-ranking officials. The trip comes just weeks after Karzai threatened to join the Taliban if foreign interference in his government continued. One item up for discussion is Karzai’s plan to hold a peace jirga later this month to reach out to low- and mid-level members of the Taliban to join his government. On Monday, US ambassador to Afghanistan Gen. Karl Eikenberry said he believed Karzai’s visit would strengthen US-Afghan relations.
Karl Eikenberry: "President Obama has expressed his confidence in President Karzai and our work together. As you know, every relationship, every bilateral relationship, especially ones as close as we have with Afghanistan, they experience ups and downs. But what measures true partnership is the ability, when the stakes are as high as they are for Afghanistan and the United States of America, to be able to work our way through difficulties and come back together and still find ourselves well aligned."
In news from Pakistan, at least fourteen people have died in a US drone attack in the North Waziristan region. It was the third drone strike since US officials accused the Pakistani Taliban of being behind the failed bombing in New York’s Times Square on May 1.
In Russia, at least forty-seven people have died after an explosion Saturday at a coal mine in Siberia. Another forty-three miners are still stuck inside the mine.
The head Palestinian negotiator says that any new Israeli settlement building in the Occupied Territories would be considered a serious provocation that would threaten newly begun peace talks. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said that Israel’s policies threatened to doom US efforts to reach a peace agreement.
Saeb Erekat: "Israel has the choice today: peace or settlements. These are two parallels that will not meet. They have to make the choice. If the Israelis decide to continue building settlements, dictation, incursions, assassinations, checkpoints, roadblocks, this will undermine the whole essence of what the Americans are trying to do in these proximity talks, which is to make peace."
On Monday, the Israeli group Peace Now revealed that Israel plans to turn a disused police station in East Jerusalem into apartments for Jewish settlers.
Hagit Ofran, spokesperson for Peace Now: "Unfortunately, the settlers are trying again to torpedo the peace talks and to prevent the solution in Jerusalem by putting up a new settlement in a Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem, in Ras al-Amud (Damascus Gate)."
The Iranian government has issued visas for the mothers of the three US hikers who have been held for more than nine months. The mothers are expected to travel soon to Iran to visit their children for the first time since their arrest. Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd and Josh Fattal were detained last July after straying across Iran’s border during a hiking trip in northern Iraq’s Kurdistan region. In other news from Iran, a correspondent for Newsweek has been sentenced in absentia to more than thirteen years in prison. Maziar Bahari was arrested last year and held for four months. Bahari’s sentencing came a day after five Iranian Kurdish activists were hanged in a Tehran prison.
The Egyptian government has announced plans to extend the state of emergency by two more years despite protests from opposition groups and human rights organizations. The emergency law has been in effect since 1981. It has given police and security officials broad authority to break up public demonstrations, detain people without charges or evidence, and conduct searches without judicial approval. Egypt’s government said it intends to slightly relax the emergency law by narrowing its use to terrorism and drug trafficking cases, but analysts said the law could still be used to stifle dissent. Opposition parties have demanded an end to the emergency law in the run-up to parliamentary elections this year and a presidential vote in 2011.
In Bolivia, workers began an indefinite strike on Monday to demand higher pay. The strike marks one of the first open confrontations between Bolivia’s labor unions and President Evo Morales. Morales is the former head of the coca leaf producers union. As part of the strike, miners are marching 125 miles from Caracollo to the capital La Paz.
And the Latino hip-hop group Cypress Hill has canceled a concert scheduled for next week in Tucson to protest Arizona’s controversial new anti-immigrant law. In a statement, the group said they are backing a boycott of Arizona "in a show of resistance to the criminalization of immigrant communities and in opposition to SB1070."
Democrat Robert Menendez of New Jersey has become the first US senator to urge Major League Baseball players to boycott the 2011 All-Star game, which is scheduled to take place in Phoenix. Menendez said, “The Arizona law is offensive to Hispanics and all Americans because it codifies racial profiling into law by requiring police to question anyone who appears to be in the country illegally."