In what is by now an oft-quoted snippet from one of her law review articles, Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan castigated the confirmation hearings of Justices Souter, Kennedy, Ginsburg and Breyer as a "vapid and hollow charade."...But this kind of borking is impossible unless the nominee wants it. It doesn't matter what questions the Senators come up with or how pushy and repetitive they are about asking them, the "vapid and hollow charade" can be kept up by the nominee until the clock runs out. The only reason the Bork hearings proceeded the way they did was because Bork chose to engage in legal debate with the Senators. He obviously believed in his ability to explain his ideas in a superior fashion, but he wasn't quite as smart as he needed to be about how it all looked to the people watching it on television, and he gave his enemies the ammunition they needed to bring him down.
What is less remarked upon is that in her article Kagan proposed a model for a more vigorous and candid confirmation hearing—that of Judge Robert Bork. The process worked in that instance, she argued, not because of the particular result but because the hearings "presented to the public a serious discussion of the meaning of the Constitution, the role of the Court, and the views of the nominee; that discussion at once educated the public and allowed it to determine whether the nominee would move the Court in the proper direction." In both popular and right-wing parlance, "borking" now means to vilify and defame a nominee in order to block his appointment, but Kagan's description is in fact a far more accurate account of what happened—senators rigorously probed and considered Bork's legal opinions and voted accordingly. So it is with this understanding that we propose, in the spirit of democratic deliberation of which she so eloquently wrote, that Elena Kagan should be borked.
Since Bork, all the nominees have adopted the same self-protective stance that Kagan criticized in her article. What would motivate Kagan to do anything other than that? I have 3 thoughts.
1. Kagan wrote a law review article criticizing the vapid self-protective approach to the hearings. She has a little incentive to avoid hypocrisy. A little.
2. She might really care about the criticism she once penned and want to set a new example of how a nominee can be forthright and expressive without losing, like Bork.
3. Unlike the nominees who adopted the self-protective strategy to deprive the President's opponents of the ammunition to shoot them down, Kagan could be pushed by Democratic Senators. That's what The Nation wants to see. It will be interesting if Democrats try to extract assurances of liberalism from Kagan, but why would Kagan want to give them that. Whatever might work for her with them will work against her with others — and with the American people who are consuming tidbits on TV and on line. I, for one, will review every word of the transcripts looking for interesting things to highlight. It's risky to give out any good material, but I hope she does. I don't think she will.
Bottom line: Expect another vapid and hollow charade.