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Graham joins panel's Dems to approve Kagan

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina on Tuesday voted in favor of the nomination of Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, making him the only GOP member of the Senate Judiciary Committee to back Obama’s pick for the high court.

The panel, made up of 12 Democrats and seven Republicans, approved Kagan’s nomination by a vote of 13-6. Every Democrat on the panel supported her, while every Republican other than Graham opposed her. The nomination will go to a full Senate vote within the next few weeks.

"At the end of the day, after the hearing, it was not a hard decision for me to make," Graham said in announcing his decision. "I thought she did a very good job and she will serve this nation honorably. And it would not have been someone I would have chosen, but the person who did choose, President Obama, I think chose wisely."

Graham repeatedly noted areas of ideological disagreement between himself and the nominee, emphasizing that she is "a liberal."

But, he said Kagan had met the Constitutional requirements to warrant his support. "Is the person qualified? Is it a person of good character? Are they someone that understands the difference between being a judge and a politician?" he said. "Quite frankly, I think she's passed all those tests."

Graham also addressed one of the main GOP arguments against her nomination: Kagan's decision as Harvard Law School dean to prohibit military recruiters from using a campus career center on the basis that the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy barring openly gay men and women from serving in the military violated the school's anti-discrimination rules.

"If I believed that she had animosity in her heart about those who wear the uniform, I could easily vote no," Graham said. "I don't believe that."

He was the only Republican member of the committee to support nominee Sonia Sotomayor in 2009.

Minutes before Graham’s statement of support, his office released a letter from Kagan to the South Carolina lawmaker praising her friend and former law school classmate Miguel Estrada. Estrada’s nomination to the federal bench by President George W. Bush was blocked by Democrats in the Senate in 2003.

The senior Republican on the committee, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., formally announced his opposition to Kagan’s nomination in a USA Today op-ed earlier Tuesday.

“Throughout her career, Ms. Kagan has placed her politics above the law," Sessions wrote. “She has never been a judge, never tried a case before a jury and has practiced law for only three years. She is the least experienced nominee in the last half-century.”

*** UPDATE *** President Obama hailed the committee's vote in a written statement:

Elena Kagan is one of this country's leading legal minds, and has shown throughout this process that, if confirmed, she would be a fair and impartial Supreme Court Justice who understands how decisions made by the Court affect the lives of everyday Americans. Today's vote by the Senate Judiciary Committee is a bipartisan affirmation of her strong performance during her confirmation hearings. I want to thank the Judiciary Committee for giving her a thorough, timely and respectful hearing, and I look forward to the full Senate taking up and voting on this nomination before the August recess.