Elena Kagan Nomination: White House Talking Points

Michael Shear, writing at WaPo’s PostPolitics, does a pretty good job of succinctly summarizing the pluses and minuses of the Kagan nomination from the White House’s POV in a  piece entitled “What Obama Sees in Kagan.”

Elena Kagan Supreme Court Nomination Speech What follows is my translation of his paragraphs into bullet points.

The Pluses

  1. Legal gravitas.  Shears asserts that “Obama wants someone who can serve as a counterweight to the intellectual heft of Chief Justice John Roberts.”  Now, whether this is true or not, I will say that while she has a limited record of scholarship, the fact that she served on the faculties of both Chicago’s and Harvard’s law schools would indicate a strong intellectual facility.
  2. Female.  One would expect the president to be interested in increasing the diversity of the Court.
  3. Young.  At 50 she would most likely serve for some time.  In recent years this has been a key criterion for choosing nominees.
  4. Not a Judge.  There has been increased interest of late to appoint a non-judge to the Court.  As James notes below, this used to be a fairly commonplace practice.  While not a judge, she does have a legal background, not to mention being Solicitor General.  As such, she would be an appointee who is not a judge, but also is not a politician.
  5. No Major Paper Trail. One of the unfortunate results of the Bork nomination back in 1980s is that it has become preferable that nominees have as scant a paper trail as is possible.  Kagan fits the bill.

The Minuses

  1. Geography. She’s another East coaster.  While there was a time that presidents tried to have geographic diversity on the Court.  For example, Sandra Day O’Connor was not only female, but she was a western nominee.  This isn’t as big a deal these days, but the issue will be raised.
  2. Religion. If Kagan is confirmed, the Court will be bereft of Protestants, as she is Jewish.  Interestingly, this seems not to matter all that much these days.

More to come in both columns, one suspects.

Elena Kagan Nomination Posts:

Photo: Reuters Pictures

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Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. rodney dill says:

    Miers was raked over the coals for not being a judge… Somehow I doubt the media will jump on that bandwagon this time.

  2. Miers was raked over the coals for her general lack of a resume, not specifically for not being a judge.

    I can say this with authority, as I was highly opposed to Miers’ nomination (I supported Roberts and Alito, fyi) because of her overall resume (James, raked her over said coals as well).

  3. Jeffrey W. Baker says:

    Harriet Miers was a know-nothing whose only qualification was being from Texas and being an evangelical loony. Even Tom Coburn, himself not the sharpest knife in the drawer, thought she was a terrible pick.

  4. Triumph says:

    Why did you include a picture of Jon Lovitz on this post?

  5. James Joyner says:

    Why did you include a picture of Jon Lovitz on this post?

    Amusingly, I’ve been trying to find the most flattering possible shots of Kagan. It ain’t easy.

  6. Philip E. Roberts says:

    Basic Journalism 101. When writing of a person using only their last name (James)one should at some point in the beginning of the comments use their entire name so the audience will know who the person is.

  7. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Read the last two pages of her collegiate thesis. It will tell you who she was and give insight to who she is. Miers was at least as qualified as Kagan. The person who stated she is not a politician lives in an alternate universe.