From the first round of Clinton Library documents regarding Elena Kagan’s White House service, we can now all be shocked – shocked! – that President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee is a liberal. It’s a mystery why the punditocracy thought someone who despaired at Ronald Reagan’s election, staffed the Michael Dukakis campaign, clerked for Thurgood Marshall, and advised Bill Clinton would be anything else. But this is what passes for news in Washington these days.
We already knew that the solicitor general was a genial but cautious careerist, rarely expressing her own opinions but forever strategizing over the next rung on the ladder that would take her to her high school dream of sitting on the Supreme Court. And we knew that she was a moderate legal academic – meaning she sits comfortably to the left of the country as a whole. Well, now we know that Kagan is a technocrat who is for abortion rights, affirmative action, and campaign finance regulations, but against guns.
Some conservatives may see this as an “a-ha” moment, and rabid progressives may be breathing a sigh of relief. But really these so-called revelations are not going to change the story, either in terms of the final confirmation vote or in the court of public opinion.
What the media should be asking, and what the American people deserve to know, is how Kagan views the Constitution – especially what limits it places on an out-of-control federal government. In a prophetic 1995 book review, the nominee expressed frustration at the “vapid and hollow charade” that the confirmation process had become and demanded that both senators and judicial nominees engage in more substantive discussions. Let’s see if the Kagan hearings meet that Kagan standard.