It's too much to hope that Solicitor General Elena Kagan, named as President Obama's second pick for the U.S. Supreme Court, will neutralize the bilious partisanship in the country and revive the days of unanimous Senate confirmation votes.
But one of the spoils of winning the presidency is the right to pick justices for the high court. It's the view of The Eagle editorial board that senators should expect nominees to be ideologically in step with the president and vote to confirm those whose education and experience establish them as highly qualified. That's why the editorial board supported the nominations of every member of the current court.
Barring revelations about some fatal flaw in background or temperament, Kagan looks confirmable as well, putting her on track to replace retiring Justice John Paul Stevens.
Especially given her relatively young age of 50, Kagan would bring a distinguished resume in public service and academia to the job, including as former dean of the Harvard Law School. Her confirmation also would be historic, giving the court its third female justice just a year after it had only one.
Some critics already see her lack of judicial experience as potentially insurmountable, while others view it as just the kind of fresh perspective the court needs. Columnist George Will, for example, praised Obama Monday for nominating "someone other than yet another appellate judge."
Judging from recent polls, the public may see it as a concern, though: In a Washington Post-ABC News survey before Kagan was named, 70 percent said judicial experience would be a factor.
And unlike the eight other justices she'd be joining, she does not have a public record of past decisions to scrutinize. That places special importance on the assessments of her past associates at the Justice Department and Harvard. Kagan's nomination will require a new tack from the Obama administration, which touted Justice Sonia Sotomayor's uncommonly long judicial experience as her strongest asset.
Three other possible drawbacks: Because of her current post, Kagan would have to recuse herself from perhaps a dozen or more matters. She would continue the predominance of the Harvard and Yale law schools and of the East Coast legal community. And she will have to explain her decision to ban military recruiters from a campus office because she viewed the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy as violating the Harvard Law School's anti-discrimination policy.
In any case, all senators — including Kansans Sam Brownback and Pat Roberts, who voted against her nomination last year to become solicitor general — should reserve judgment at least until her Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.
But with or without Republican votes, Kagan's chances for confirmation look good.