TUCSON, Ariz. — U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan says the political pressure surrounding President Barack Obama’s stalled high-court nominee doesn’t affect her fellow justices when it comes to handing down rulings.

During a talk at the University of Arizona Wednesday, Kagan said the opinions of the president or members of Congress are “utterly irrelevant to us when we decide cases.” Senate Republicans have said they won’t confirm Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland before the presidential election.

Obama chose Garland to fill the vacancy left by the February death of Justice Antonin Scalia, whom Kagan described as “generous, warm, and funny as a person could be.” The loss of his “big voice” has forced justices to adjust their roles to “take over what he does,” she said.

Kagan’s comments during the hourlong discussion also focused on the makeup of the nation’s highest court, which she said “is not right now a particularly diverse institution.” She said the court could use more geographical diversity, noting that many justices spent a large part of their lives on the East Coast, The Arizona Daily Star reported (http://bit.ly/2bDOaVX).

“I think more than gender, race, or ethnicity it really does have to do with this kind of coastal perspective,” Kagan said.

She acknowledged that a lack of diversity affects how the public views the court.

“People look at an institution and they see people who are like them, who share their experiences, who they imagine share their set of values, and that’s a sort of natural thing and they feel more comfortable if that occurs,” she said.

Kagan became the high court’s fourth female justice when she was appointed in 2010.


Information from: Arizona Daily Star, http://www.tucson.com