Senator pushes to see full Kagan files

WASHINGTON - Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the top Judiciary Committee Republican, warned Monday that he would seek to slow Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan's path to confirmation unless senators get full access to her files as a White House counsel and then domestic-policy adviser to President Bill Clinton.

Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D., Vt.) has set hearings to begin June 28. But Sessions, saying that "we're heading to what could be a train wreck," said Republicans would ask for a delay unless senators get access to the tens of thousands of pages of Clinton-era records by then.

Sessions has no veto over the hearing schedule, but his threat set the stage for a potential partisan showdown over the documents and the pace of Kagan's confirmation process.

The nation's archivist said his staff would begin releasing the documents, which are at Clinton's presidential library, by June 4 and try to accommodate Judiciary's June 28 deadline. - AP

U.S.: Keep parties' soft-money ban

WASHINGTON - The Obama administration asked the Supreme Court on Monday to let stand a ban keeping political parties from raising unlimited campaign contributions, the latest skirmish after the court's January decision to unleash corporate and labor spending in federal elections.

In court filings, acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal argued that the justices should uphold a lower court's determination that the ban on the raising of soft money by national party committees should stay.

The GOP wants it undone in time for this fall's elections. But Katyal said the court, in its January ruling in Citizens United v. FEC, "emphasized that the dispute before it involved independent electoral advocacy rather than contributions." - AP

For Phoenix Mars Lander, it's the end

LOS ANGELES - NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory said Monday that they were formally closing down the Phoenix Mars Lander program after repeated attempts to contact the craft failed and new images from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter showed that it was apparently irretrievably damaged by ice buildup.

"We will make no further efforts to contact it," said the JPL's Barry Goldstein, project manager for the program.

Virtually no one had expected the craft to survive the long Martian winter.

Phoenix landed on Mars on May 25, 2008, and conducted a series of highly successful tasks, digging into ice and finding that the soil in the northern plains was much more conducive to life than had been expected. Designed for a three-month lifespan, the craft sent its last message on Nov. 2, 2008. The JPL team is now working on the Mars Science Lander, due to launch in 2011. - Los Angeles Times

Elsewhere:

About 45 million Americans are not buckling up in their cars, the government said Monday, a poor habit that factors into thousands of highway deaths every year. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said an average of 38 unbelted people a day were killed in motor-vehicle crashes. Nearly 93 percent of New Jersey motorists and 88 percent in Pennsylvania buckled up last year, his department said.