Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Early Thoughts on Elena Kagan

A couple of friends asked me what I think of Obama's pick for Supreme Court. I've been reading this and that, but by no means have I made a comprehensive review of all things Kagan. In no particular order, here's my initial set of reactions.

  • On Average, She's About on Par with Stevens. Justice Stevens is being touted as a great progressive hero. In fact he is a pragmatist and a moderate who looks liberal only due to what passes for the center on the current court. He is responsible for some strong liberal decisions -- his dissent in Bowers v. Hardwick became the law when the Court struck down sodomy laws in Lawrence v. Texas. On the other hand, he also took some less-than-progressive positions, such as his dissent in the Texas flag-burning case. Kagan looks about the same, though probably with a different issue mix.
  • In any Event, She's Certainly Left of Kennedy. This is all matters a whole lot less, given that Justice Kennedy is the swing vote. It's unlikely a liberal position will get Kennedy's vote, but not Kagan's.
  • She Was Nominated for Her Intangibles. Intangibles were the "it" topic during this year's NFL draft -- that bundles of leadership qualities that don't fit on a stat sheet. By all reports, Ms. Kagan's big strength is her intangibles. She's the Tim Tebow of high-flying legal talent. Justice Stevens was known as the last great compromiser on the Court, able to occasionally bring a conservative or two over to an otherwise liberal side. My guess is that Obama wanted someone to fill that role on the Court and Kagan had the best mix of professional qualifications, youth and consensus building chops.
  • At Some Point, the President's Selection Should Be Respected. The grumbling on the Left is that Obama should have picked a through-and-through orthodox liberal. I've never been terribly comfortable with trying to defeat a nominee simply on the basis of ideology -- I'm more interested in legal method. In any event, mobilizing against a nominee because she may be liberal but not liberal enough embraces a rigid orthodoxy that we should let the Right keep to themselves.
  • The Experience Thing. She's not the next Harriet Myers as Mitch McConnell's office is apparently hinting. Her experience is more analogous to -- though more extensive than -- that of William Rehnquist. And setting ideology aside, Rehnquist was a good Justice and a great Chief Justice at a time the Court needed strong leadership to recover from the damage Warren Burger wreaked.
  • Enemy of My Enemy. Anyone attacked by Jeff Sessions is worth a serious look.
As time goes on and more information sees daylight, I may get more specific. For now, you know where I'm coming from


rootvg said...

Relax, Scott. I think she's a fine looking man.