WASHINGTON — She cracked wise. She waxed sentimental. And she employed the artful dodge liberally.

Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan let some of her personality show through today as members of the Senate Judiciary Committee poked into every corner of her legal thinking. And she offered what amounted to a personal declaration of independence when questioned repeatedly about her admiration for her former boss, the late Justice Thurgood Marshall.

“I love Justice Marshall. He did an enormous amount for me,” she told the senators. “But if you confirm me to this position, you will get Justice Kagan. You won’t get Justice Marshall, and that’s an important thing.”

Through it all, Kagan didn’t let her guard down.

She skirted questions aplenty on Day 2 of her confirmation hearings, and held her tongue when Republicans gave it to her good.

She seemed more animated and at ease than during her slow, careful delivery of her opening statement on Monday.

Kagan bobbed her head. She waved her arms. She glanced heavenward for one answer.

“I’m enjoying our colloquy together,” Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, told Kagan midway through a back-and-forth over campaign finance law.

“Me too,” Kagan said.

And it seemed as if she meant it.

When Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., suggested “a little heart to heart” talk with the nominee, Kagan went along with the joke.

“Just you and me,” she agreed, as the video rolled and the cameras clicked.

Grilled about her actions as Harvard Law dean to restrict military recruitment on campus, Kagan got emotional when one senator read aloud from an opinion piece by a Marine captain and Harvard Law graduate who wrote of her support for the military.

“I’ve only cried once during this process,” Kagan said, “and I cried when I woke up one morning and I read that op-ed from Captain Merrill. It meant just an enormous amount to me.”

At one point, Hatch and Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy got into a little back-and-forth over the fairness of Hatch’s questions, the kind of encounter that Hatch said helps to keep the Congress from being “boring as hell.”

Kagan chimed in: “And it gets the spotlight off me, you know, so I’m all for it.”

Kagan even poked a little fun at the justices whom she hopes to soon join. Speaking about her support for allowing cameras in the Supreme Court, Kagan called it an incredible sight to watch the justices during oral arguments, but also allowed that some cases “will put you to sleep, you know.”

Kagan was relaxed, but it didn’t take long before she found herself trying to explain away her own words.

Kagan knew that questions about her 1995 article on Supreme Court confirmation hearings were coming, and she was ready.

In the article, Kagan had complained that Supreme Court hearings had “taken on an air of vacuity and farce” because senators didn’t pin down nominees on their legal views. Senators, she said, should pursue more “substantive inquiry” and push nominees to be more open about views.

The article was inspired by Kagan’s observations as a Judiciary Committee staffer during the confirmation hearings for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

But things look a lot different from the witness seat in Room 216 of the Senate’s Hart Office Building.

Kagan said she stood by the basic thrust of her article – and then started backpedaling.

“I would say that there are limits on that,” she said of the need for openness.

“I did have the balance a little off,” she said.

“I skewed it a little too much” in favor of openness, she allowed.

Kagan had begun walking back from her words a year ago, during the confirmation hearing for her last job as solicitor general.

This time, she finished the job.

Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wisc., asked Kagan what her “passions” would be as a judge.

“I think I will take this one case at a time,” she demurred. “It would not be right for a judge to come in and say, ‘I have a passion for this or that.”

Kohl reminded Kagan that she’d written that “it was a fair question” to ask nominees what direction they would move the court.

And then he asked her just that.

“It might be a fair question,” she agreed.

But it wasn’t one she was willing to answer.

11:28 a.m.

WASHINGTON — Challenged by Republicans, Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan said today the Pentagon’s recruiters had access to Harvard Law School students “every single day I was dean” and rejected GOP claims she maneuvered to thwart them.

“I’m just a little taken aback by the tone of your remarks because it is unconnected to reality,” retorted Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, first Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee to question in public President Barack Obama’s choice for the high court.

Said Kagan: “I respect and indeed I revere the military.”

The exchange came little more than an hour into a scheduled full day of questioning by members of the panel, which will vote first on Kagan’s appointment to succeed retiring Justice John Paul Stevens. Barring a major gaffe, the 50-year old Obama administration solicitor general appears well on her way toward confirmation in time to take her seat before the court opens a new term in October.

Kagan also spoke favorably of televising Supreme Court proceedings. “It would be a great thing for the court, and it would be a great thing for the American people,” she said.

But she was far less forthcoming when asked whether she believed the Supreme Court had erred last winter in ruling that corporations and unions were free to spend their own funds on political activity.

Kagan said that as solicitor general, she had argued the government’s side of the case, which turned out to be a loser in a 5-4 ruling. Pressed to say what her personal views were, she said, “I did believe we had a strong case to make. I tried to make it to the best of my ability.”

Earlier, the hearing turned testy when Sessions questioned Kagan’s actions as dean in a controversy stemming from the Pentagon’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and a law that denied federal funds to any institution denying equal access to military recruiters.

Responding to Sessions on another issue, Kagan refused to describe her political views as “progressive in the mold” of the president who twice has appointed her to important jobs.

She also sidestepped when the Alabama Republican, citing a characterization by a senior White House official, sought to label her as a “legal progressive.”

“I honestly don’t know what that label means,” she said. “I’ve served in two Democratic administrations. … You can tell something about me and my political views from that.”

Kagan also declined when Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., asked for her views of the other members of the court she hopes to join. She said it would be a “bad idea” for her to talk about current justices, drawing laughter from a crowded hearing room.