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Politics & Government

Courtesy Calls Give Senators A Chance To Get To Know Supreme Court Nominees

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

President Obama's Supreme Court nominee is paying courtesy calls on the senators who will meet with him. So far, all but one of Judge Merrick Garland's meetings have been with Democrats. Most Republicans say they will not consider or, in some cases, even meet any nominee by this president.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Christopher Kang, our next guest has been involved in some less contentious nominations. The former Obama White House aide accompanied Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan on their Supreme Court courtesy calls. Welcome to the program.

CHRISTOPHER KANG: Thanks so much for having me.

INSKEEP: Just called them courtesy calls, are they really?

KANG: You know, that is - that's what they're called. But I don't think that that's the right name for them. Really, these are pretty substantive, 30, 45-minute conversations about judicial philosophy and about legal issues that are important to the senators.

INSKEEP: What were they like when you accompanied those other two judges who ended up as justices?

KANG: So they were fascinating. Justice Sotomayor met with what we think is a record 92 senators in all. And there - the conversations ranged from tell me about your judicial philosophy, these are some issues I've seen in the press that are concerning to me, to these are issues that are important to me and important to my constituents, and I want to give you the opportunity to hear them from me.

INSKEEP: What did they want to know, for example, from Sotomayor?

KANG: I think for Justice Sotomayor, as you may recall, there was a lot of conversation around her speech about a wise Latina.

INSKEEP: She said something about a wise Latina could make a better decision than a white man, was literally what she said.

KANG: I think that may have been literally what she said, but that certainly wasn't what she was trying to convey. And so she had an opportunity, I think - again, for senators who had an open mind, to discuss what she really meant, which is talking about the importance of diversity in any judicial or in any decision-making process and how having a diversity of viewpoints and voices helps read to a better outcome.

INSKEEP: Do you believe, having witnessed those discussions, that she won people over in those meetings?

KANG: I think that she probably did. I think that either she won them over or she gave them greater comfort for those people that were already inclined to support her. And I definitely think that they made a difference.

INSKEEP: So suppose you were advising Judge Garland. Once he does get to meet with some Republicans, what advice would you give him about what to do and say in meeting like that?

KANG: You know, I think the most important thing for any judicial nominee is to know their record. And Chief Judge Garland having a 19-year record as a federal judge is a little bit more work to review than others. But I really think that he has the benefit of having that record that speaks for itself in terms of his judicial philosophy. So when he talks about how he would approach individual cases, it's not something that senators have to take on faith. He has a 19-year record to back it up.

INSKEEP: Last thing, when you go from senator to senator to senator, one person after another who's very powerful and may hold your fate in their hands, is it any fun?

KANG: It can be fun, again because it depends on the opportunity to make a connection with the senator. I think that - I don't know that Justice Sotomayor would call it fun when she broke her ankle during these courtesy calls. But then having senators...

INSKEEP: Something a little more physical than she attended there.

KANG: Right. Well, so she actually was coming back home from New York City, in between a week - a weekend in between these courtesy visits. And on her way - in the airport on the way, home she broke her ankle. And even though she broke her ankle that day, she still met with six senators. And so as senators signed her cast and brought little pillows for her to rest her feet, there's a little bit of levity in that, given the situation.

INSKEEP: Christopher Kang, thanks very much.

KANG: Great. Thanks so much.

INSKEEP: He worked in President Obama's White House, where he was in charge of vetting judicial nominees. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.