Supreme Court confirmation hearings have a rich history in America. Supreme Court Justices have gone through confirmation in the Senate since our country was founded, and have been considered regularly by the Senate Judiciary Committee since 1868 – nominees have been testifying there since 1925. This week Elena Kagan takes her place in that history, with the Judiciary Committee holding a hearing to evaluate her nomination. If they decide to vote her out of the committee, the entire Senate will then vote on whether to confirm her to the Supreme Court.
So what should you expect to see? Well, you’ll likely see two things really: one is Elena Kagan, a woman who has dedicated her career to public service and to the study of how American law affects the American people, with values instilled in her by a father who was an attorney and represented ordinary people in his community, and a mother who was a beloved public school teacher. You’ll see a brilliant woman who has been an independent thinker from the beginning of her career, garnering respect from all quarters as one of Nation’s leading legal minds. You’ll see a trailblazer – the first woman to become Dean of Harvard Law School, beloved by students and widely respected for her skills as a consensus builder and openness to different points of view. And you’ll see a woman widely praised as a commanding, effective advocate for the American people as America’s Solicitor General, the first woman to serve in that position as well.
The second thing you’ll see, however, is what you might expect: some good old-fashioned politics. You’ll hear baseless claims that she would be an “activist judge,” claims that certain senators seem to make about any judge nominated by a President of the other party. You’ll hear attacks on her independence despite the enthusiastic endorsement she has received from members of the legal community across the political spectrum. And you’ll see attempts to attach nefarious meanings to notes scribbled on documents years ago, from the same senators who have insisted during previous nominations that doing so is unhelpful and unwise.
That’s Washington for you. But keep your eye on Elena Kagan, and we predict that you’ll quickly see why she’s so widely respected and admired. The letter of support signed by every Solicitor General from the past quarter century – Democrats and Republicans – might put it best, noting not just her “brilliant intellect,” but the “high regard in which she is held by persons of a wide variety of political and social views.” We predict you’ll see the same.