News in Brief: At Confirmation Hearing, Kagan Tries to Keep Quiet, and More …

At the start of her Supreme Court confirmation hearing on Tuesday, Solicitor General Elena Kagan has backtracked on her past calls for court nominees to be open about their constitutional views, reported The New York Times. During the questioning by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Kagan said that speaking about how she might rule on “cases that might come before the court in the future” and answering questions that were “veiled” attempts to get at such issues was inappropriate. She also said, “it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to talk about past cases.”

Republican lawmakers are working to paint Kagan as an “activist judge,” reported Democracy Now!, by stressing her ties to Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American Supreme Court justice. During the 1987-88 term, Kagan was a clerk for Marshall. His name was mentioned 35 times during the first day of Kagan’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing. At the same time, Senator Leahy accused the current court of judicial activism, citing the controversial Citizens United ruling that allows corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money on election campaigns, and defended Kagan as an “intelligent woman, who has excelled during every part of her varied and distinguished career” and whose “judicial philosophy [is] well within the legal mainstream.”


Gen. David Petraeus faces a Senate hearing in Washington to confirm him as US commander of the war in Afghanistan, reported the BBC, following the firing of Gen. Stanley McChrystal for criticizing senior US administration officials in a Rolling Stone magazine profile. Petraeus said he supports Obama’s plan to begin troop withdrawal in July 2011, but described the security situation in Afghanistan as “tenuous, with instability fueled by a resilient and still-confident insurgency.” Correspondents say he is not expected to face much opposition from the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Meanwhile, about 700 US and Afghan troops have launched a major assault along the Afghan border with Pakistan, described as one of the largest in eastern Afghanistan in the past several years, reported The Washington Post. According to officials, 150 insurgent fighters were killed in the attacks, and the civilian death toll is not yet known.


Relations with Russia are chilling, reported The Guardian UK , as Moscow calls the US arrest of 11 alleged Russian spies in New York a cold war tactic and suggests that it is a deliberate attempt to undermine the recent “reset” in US-Russian relations. “We believe such actions are ungrounded and have unseemly goals,” the Russian foreign ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said. “We do not understand the reasons why the US department of justice has made a public statement in the spirit of the cold war.” Five of the suspects were ordered by a Manhattan federal court to remain in prison until a preliminary hearing on July 27.


In protest of the brutal police crackdown on protesters during the G20 summit, more than 1,000 people rallied outside police headquarters in Toronto on Monday, reported Democracy Now!. The current estimate of people, including journalists, arrested over the weekend stands at 900. Videos have appeared on the web showing city police in riot gear beating peaceful protesters as they sang the Canadian national anthem.


Gun control advocates saw a setback Monday after the Supreme Court effectively removed the city of Chicago’s 28-year ban on handguns, reported Democracy Now!. In a 4-5 decision, the court stated that gun bans infringe on a citizen’s “right to bear and keep arms” and violate the Constitution. The case has been returned to lower courts, and is expect to spark new challenges to gun control measures across the country. Following the ruling, the stock price of the gun manufacturer Smith & Wesson grew by over 5.6 percent.