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On April 9th, the day Justice Stevens announced his retirement, President Obama outlined the qualities and characteristics he would be looking for in his next appointee to the Supreme Court: "I will seek someone … with similar qualities—an independent mind, a record of excellence and integrity, a fierce dedication to the rule of law, and a keen understanding of how the law affects the daily lives of the American people. It will also be someone who, like Justice Stevens, knows that in a democracy, powerful interests must not be allowed to drown out the voices of ordinary citizens."
Unsurprisingly, at the time, many on the left swiftly drew up their list of favorites and of those they were less enthusiastic about. They were quick to categorize those on the White House's short list—and to evaluate who would best represent the "voices of ordinary citizens." Before the facts were even on the table, they had drawn their own conclusions; they had especially done so about the president's soon-to-be nominee, Elena Kagan.
This was ironic given Kagan's accomplishments—she was a law clerk for Justice Thurgood Marshall, a law professor at Chicago and Harvard, and now solicitor general. She also had the pragmatic policy and political skills: domestic policy director in the Clinton White House, associate White House counsel, and the first woman dean of Harvard Law School.
Now, it was true that Kagan had never been a judge, so there wasn't a volume of her decisions for folks to leaf through—and this understandably made some nervous.
But now that we're three months down the road, and that we've had a chance to get to know the president's nominee, I'm hoping that those early naysayers have come two see things: First, as much as we'd like to, you just can't put people into neat ideological boxes—some of their preconceived notions were off-base. Second, Elena Kagan is a progressive who has spent her career in the law and in politics as a champion for "the voices of ordinary citizens."
As any good lawyer would do, particularly with the confirmation hearings on the horizon, it's worth reviewing the evidence at hand.