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Disability Advocates Reserving Judgment On High Court Nominee

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Disability advocacy groups are taking a wait and see approach with Elena Kagan who the president nominated to the Supreme Court on Monday.

Kagan, who currently serves as the country’s solicitor general, will replace Justice John Paul Stevens if she is confirmed by the Senate. A former Harvard Law School dean, Kagan has never been a judge. She would be the court’s youngest member at age 50 and the fourth woman to serve on the court.

Disability advocates were hesitant to say much about Kagan. Without a judicial record, they said little is known on her positions regarding disability rights law.

“I think her hearings are going to be important,” Louis Bossing, senior staff attorney at the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, said of Kagan’s upcoming Senate confirmation process. “We’re going to spend time working with the judiciary committee so the senators can ask questions we’ll need to know whether to support or oppose her nomination.”

The initial reaction is starkly differently from the response advocates gave to President Barack Obama’s first Supreme Court nominee last year. Within a day of announcing now Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s selection, disability advocates were were suggesting “she may be the champion we have been looking for.”

Ultimately, more than two dozen national disability organizations banded together to support Sotomayor’s confirmation.

Despite the quiet reception advocates are giving Kagan, Bossing does say there are reasons to be hopeful. Under Kagan’s leadership at Harvard, the law school established clinics to help students with disabilities and to support implementation of the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. What’s more, Bossing says, he is optimistic that Obama’s own understanding of disability rights law means that he would select a similarly well-versed nominee.

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