Washington (CNN) - Former military members on Thursday slammed Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan over her handling of military recruiters on the Harvard campus when she was dean of the university's law school.
On the final day of the Senate Judiciary Committee's confirmation hearing for Kagan, a total of 24 witnesses were scheduled to testify for and against President Barack Obama's pick to replace the retiring Justice John Paul Stevens.
The 50-year old Kagan has come under criticism from Republican senators, who complained that she actively tried to block military recruiters from Harvard Law School when she was dean because of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy banning openly gay and lesbian service members.
"Dean Kagan's clearly unlawful actions estranged the campus," said former U.S. Army Capt. Flagg Youngblood. He called Kagan's actions "double dealing" and a "condescension to the American rule of law that harmed the interests of the military." Youngblood attended Yale University as an ROTC member, and is now director of military outreach for the conservative Young America's Foundation.
Capt. Pete Hegseth of the Army National Guard said Kagan "encouraged students to oppose and protest the presence of military recruiters on campus."
Kagan and the White House have strongly defended her actions, saying that while she opposed the military's policy, Kagan never kept recruiters off the university.
Kagan also supported other schools challenging a federal law - known as the Solomon Amendment - requiring that recruiters be given equal access or face the loss of federal funding. The Supreme Court unanimously upheld the law on March 6, 2006.
Just four months after taking the job as Harvard's dean, in October 2003, Kagan offered students her thoughts in a campus-wide e-mail, saying that to give recruiters equal access to the campus "causes me deep distress. I abhor the military's discriminatory recruitment policy." She called it "a profound wrong - a moral injustice of the first order."
Among the witnesses invited by the Senate committee's Democratic majority were two people who sued their employers, claiming age and sex discrimination on the job.
Lilly Ledbetter said she hoped Kagan would be a sympathetic ear to those who bring legitimate workplace suits.
"I learned who is on the Supreme Court makes all the difference," she said.
The former tire company manager alleged she was paid less than her male counterparts for equal work about two decades, but did not find out about the discrimination until she was about to retire. The high court in 2007 ruled against her, saying existing federal law did not allow such lawsuits to be filed so late. Most workers had 180 days to file a claim after the first discriminatory pay decision.
But Obama, in the first bill he signed after taking office in January 2009, enacted into law the Lily Ledbetter Act that nullified the high court decision and said every new paycheck received over the years based on a
discriminatory act - regardless of when the first discrimination occurred - would extend the statute of limitations 180 days.
"If one more person like [liberal] Justice [Ruth Bader] Ginsburg or Justice Stevens were on the court," Ledbetter said, "then my case would have turned out differently," Ledbetter said.
Jack Gross lost his Supreme Court appeal last year, after he alleged he was a victim of age discrimination for being passed over for a promotion. He criticized the current conservative court for reading federal laws in a way that makes it more difficult for people like him to claim wrongdoing by employers.
Kagan faced a barrage of questions Wednesday, the third day of her confirmation hearing before the committee, but ended the day smiling and hugging supporters. Her part of the confirmation hearing ended Wednesday.
She spent much of Wednesday portraying herself as someone who would be an independent voice on the high court.
In keeping with the tradition of other recent high court nominees, the solicitor general repeatedly declined to indicate how she might rule if confirmed, leading one senator to bemoan what many observers now characterize as a confirmation process devoid of substance.
She told committee members that, if confirmed, she would not be influenced by her previous political positions in the Clinton administration and elsewhere.
"When you get on the bench [and] you put on the robe, your only master is the rule of law," she said, adding that she would be "independent and not favor any political party."
Democrats were generally effusive in their praise for Kagan. Committee chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, called her answers "superb" and predicted she would be confirmed.
"I have appreciated not only your intellect, but also your good humor throughout," Leahy said in concluding the public questioning of Kagan, adding that she answered the senators' questions "more fully than any recent nominee."
Even conservative Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma was impressed, telling Kagan that hers was the fourth confirmation hearing in which he has participated, "and I think it's been one of the best."
However, the committee's ranking Republican, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, said he remained unsure of whether he would support Kagan's nomination when the panel votes.
If confirmed as expected by the 19-member committee and then the full Senate, Kagan would be the 112th Supreme Court justice. Her addition to the high court would mean the nine-member panel would include three women for the first time.
- CNN's Alan Silverleib contributed to this report.