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Opening Arguments

Let's be fair -- you're wrong

One of President Obama's remarks on nominating Elena Kagan for the Supreme Court reminds me of a line you hear in a Western movie now and then -- "Why, we're not hastyhere. We're gonna give him a fair trial before we hang him":

But Elena is respected and admired not just for her intellect and record of achievement, but also for her temperament, her openness to a broad array of viewpoints, her habit, to borrow a phrase from Justice Stevens, of understanding before disagreeing, her fair-mindedness and skill as a consensus-builder.

I've been watching the Supreme Court for a long time, and it seems to me that "consensus building" in that institution doesn't start with an "openness to a broad array of viewpoints" but with an attempt to convince others (and often only Justice Anthony Kennedy) that your viewpoint is the correct one. In fact, people who are open to a wide variety of viewpoints are often the ones who can be swayed this way and that because they lack core convictions.

I've been arguing for a living for a long time, too, and when I hear someone who claims to be fair-minded and promises to "understand before disagreeing," I know somebody is blowing smoke. Debate isn't for sissies.


tim zank
Tue, 05/11/2010 - 10:40am

Considering her breadth of experience in an actual courtroom, (0) she makes a fitting pick for the "holy cow are we out of our league" administration.

Sort of like having your college biology professor perform open heart surgery 'cuz he knows a lot about science stuff.

Leo Morris
Tue, 05/11/2010 - 11:40am

But the important questions are whether she knows the Constitution and how she would apply it. Don't be too hasty about the lack of courtroom experience -- the last justice who fit that description was William Rehnquist, and I haven't heard too many conservatives complain about his record.