The torrent of words about the new Supreme Court designee suggests that Barack Obama has come as close to choosing himself as is humanly possible.
His former colleague on the University of Chicago Law School faculty, Elena Kagan is variously characterized as brilliant, ambitious, open-minded, pragmatic and progressive–qualities that carried the President into the White House but now have him besieged by criticism from the political Right and Left.
In announcing the appointment, he cited her “excellence, integrity and passion for the law,” traits that may be better-suited and less controversial for service on the Supreme Court than in the White House.
Notably missing from the litany is “empathy,” an attribute that Republicans redefined as prejudice during the hearings for Sonia Sotomayor. If anything, Kagan’s record of consensus-building as dean of the Harvard Law School may raise qualms among Democrats who would prefer as much passion for people as the law .
With no judicial record to be mined for ideological attacks, the new nominee may have a much smoother ride to Senate approval than her immediate predecessor, a confirmation that could resemble a past era before Borking became a verb, when legal excellence was a prime consideration regardless of philosophy or biography.
It is, in fact, Elena Kagan’s private life rather than her public record that has the potential for controversy. In all today’s reporting on her appointment, there is one notable omission–a dog that didn’t bark in the night–the absence of details about her human connections beyond work.
Last month, the White House issued a huffing denial when a CBS blog entry suggested that Kagan is gay, calling it “inaccurate.” One way or another, germane or not, the subject is bound to come up again in the coming weeks.