Did anyone in Washington (or anywhere outside the beltway for that matter) notice that the United States Senate confirmed Elena Kagan as an Associate Justice for the United States Supreme Court last week? Not to mistrust the intelligence of the American citizenry, but this is, as Anchorman Ron Burgundy would say “kind of a big deal.”
One sure wouldn’t be able to glean very much about the proceedings however, from the cavernous dearth of media coverage of Kagan’s confirmation.
First things first: Kagan, who has proven herself to be competent and intelligent, deserved (and certainly received) a fair hearing. She possesses experience in front of the Court, having served as President Obama’s Solicitor General. Additionally, while Dean of Harvard law school, she apparently made nice with the institution’s conservative judicial professors and sought political consensus on some tough issues.
Congeniality alone, however, does not a Supreme Court justice make. Kagan took hits for her treatment of military recruiters at Harvard because of her objection to the “don’t ask don’t tell policy”. Other than a few blips of questioning, however, this incident also went largely unnoticed by the Senate judiciary committee.
Additionally, there is the matter of Kagan’s service in Bill Clinton’s White House, where she frequently made political comments about what were supposed to be objective matters of policy. In a Democratic controlled Senate, these inquires too appeared largely off limits.
In all likelihood, Kagan was a shoo-in for the nomination. The numbers simply favored it. Yet the “Eazy Pass” terminal she rode through to confirmation made Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito’s confirmation hearings appear as if they were stuck in the “Cash Only” lane without enough change to pay their tolls. Kagan’s questioning was soft at best and played more like a coronation than a serious job interview.
Many conservatives have dismissed Kagan’s confirmation as a superfluous exercise, given that she is replacing one of the Courts’ most liberal justices. One can’t help but wonder, however, why the nomination hearings flew so far under the radar.
The optimist in me holds out hope that Kagan will serve as a centrist and moderate vote for the court – potentially even swaying some liberals on certain cases. But I’m not optimistic.
Who knows? Stranger things have happened. Gerald Ford did appoint her predecessor, John Paul Stevens, after all. A thought not completely comforting to conservatives.
Cameron Lynch is a former aide to three Republican Senators and president of The Lynch Group, LLC, a Republican government affairs and political consulting firm.