Elena Kagan, Careerist?

Critics claim the nominee shows more ambition than conviction

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Generally, when Supreme Court nominees are selected, pundits from opposing parties begin painting vastly different portrayals of the candidate. One side vilifies, the other sanctifies. With Solicitor General Elena Kagan, however, there are conflicting themes. Some on the right grudgingly approve of Kagan, while others criticize her decision to ban military recruiters at Harvard. Some left-leaning pundits are concerned about her executive-power stance, while others praise her intellectual and ideological similarities to Obama. Yet one unexpected strain has emerged from critics on both the right and left: she's a careerist who shows more concern with advancing than with holding clear, principled views.

  • A Brown-Noser?  David Brooks at The New York Times likens Kagan to other Ivy League "organization kids"--ladder-climbers who seldom challenge their superiors: "If they had any flaw, it was that they often had a professional and strategic attitude toward life. They were not intellectual risk-takers. They regarded professors as bosses to be pleased rather than authorities to be challenged... She seems to be smart, impressive and honest — and in her willingness to suppress so much of her mind for the sake of her career, kind of disturbing."
  • Institution-Bound, Careerist, writes civil libertarian blogger Glenn Greenwald at Salon: "It's anything but surprising that President Obama has chosen Elena Kagan to replace John Paul Stevens on the Supreme Court.  Nothing is a better fit for this White House than a blank slate, institution-loyal, seemingly principle-free careerist who spent the last 15 months as the Obama administration's lawyer vigorously defending every one of his assertions of extremely broad executive authority."
  • Good at Advancing, but Where's the Scholarship? wonders Jonathan Zasloff: "Consider that Kagan first got tenure at the University of Chicago based on two articles — which usually is what that notoriously overachieving faculty wants in one year from a junior professor. Then she got an academic chair at Harvard based on one more piece, Presidential Administration. She wrote nothing else for more than two years at Harvard. And then she was appointed Dean. This shows that Kagan may not be a great scholar, but she is enormously skilled at impressing older colleagues."
  • Not a Bold, Progressive Figure, writes liberal blogger Cenk Uygur at the Huffington Post: "Elena Kagan - safe, no record, never challenged power in any meaningful way, never stood up for progressive ideology, beloved by the establishment in Washington - the perfect Obama candidate. I'm tired of it."
  • Remarkably Cautious,  writes Tom Goldstein, publisher of SCOTUSblog. He describes her as "extraordinarily-almost artistically-careful. I don’t know anyone who has had a conversation with her in which she expressed a personal conviction on a question of constitutional law in the past decade. Now, there are obviously an awful lot of people whom I do not know. But I have never talked to anyone who talked to anyone who had a conversation like that."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.