He's relating a conversation he had with Scalia when they happened to have been seated together at the White House Correspondents Association dinner, right after David Souter had announced his retirement.
I was surprised that a member of the court would so bluntly propose a nominee, and intrigued that it was Kagan.... Later, I learned that Scalia and Kagan were friends.... Each was a graduate of Harvard Law School and had taught at the University of Chicago Law School, though in different eras. They were of different generations, he the son of an Italian immigrant, she a Jew from New York City's left-leaning West Side. But they shared an intellectual rigor and a robust sense of humor. And if Scalia could not have a philosophical ally in the next court appointee, he had hoped, at least, for one with the heft to give him a good, honest fight.Kagan did not get that nomination, though she got the next one, when Justice John Paul Stevens retired a year later. The Souter seat went to Sonia Sotomayor... and perhaps you remember that before she was nominated, when she was thought to be the top candidate, she was openly attacked in the press as not smart enough. Jeffrey Rosen made "The Case Against Sonia Sotomayor":
Her opinions, although competent, are viewed by former prosecutors as not especially clean or tight, and sometimes miss the forest for the trees. It's customary, for examples, for Second Circuit judges to circulate their draft opinions to invite a robust exchange of views. Sotomayor, several former clerks complained, rankled her colleagues by sending long memos that didn't distinguish between substantive and trivial points, with petty editing suggestions--fixing typos and the like--rather than focusing on the core analytical issues.ADDED: I assume Axelrod's story is true. He did wait to tell it until the one who could contradict it died, but what advantage is there in this that would make it seem like a lie? To my ear, it hurt Sotomayor, but Axelrod might not have thought about that. So I see an advantage in saying that the honorable conservative wanted a worthy liberal with whom to engage and therefore, perhaps, that it might honor him to be replace by a really smart person of Obama's choice.