About a decade ago, one began to notice a profusion of Organization Kids at elite college campuses. These were bright students who had been formed by the meritocratic system placed in front of them. They had great grades, perfect teacher recommendations, broad extracurricular interests, admirable self-confidence and winning personalities.Does Kagan fit that description (and, if she does, is that bad)?
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. As one admissions director told me at the time, they were prudential rather than poetic.
[She] is apparently prudential, deliberate and cautious.There's that word "prudential" again. It's a very common word used in talking about judges, by the way. It corresponds to judicial restraint and the avoidance of things that might be called activism.
She does not seem to be one who leaps into a fray when the consequences might be unpredictable. “She was one of the most strategic people I’ve ever met, and that’s true across lots of aspects of her life,” John Palfrey, a Harvard law professor, told The Times. “She is very effective at playing her cards in every setting I’ve seen.”This is a fine quality for a judge!
Tom Goldstein, the publisher of the highly influential SCOTUSblog, has described Kagan 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.”Again, isn't that just what we want — a judge who doesn't inject personal convictions into legal analysis? Well, some people want judges who have the right personal preferences and appropriate the power of their position to put them into action. And, realistically, someone who wanted to be that kind of judge would probably need to be extraordinarily — almost artistically — careful not to let it show until they'd acquired a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.
So, there's the Kagan puzzle. I don't think it's so much whether she fits this sociological category — Organization Kid — that fascinates Brooks. I think it's whether deep down she's judicious or political: Is she really someone who works through legal problems without personal preferences? Or is she a big politico — who, once she gets into that robe, will wreak her will on us?