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West Wing Briefing

What Obama sees in Kagan

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The Washington Post's Robert Barnes discusses Solicitor General Elena Kagan's non-judicial background and looks ahead to the confirmation hearings on Capitol Hill.

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By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 10, 2010; 6:29 AM

It's Kagan!

Why is President Obama choosing his solicitor general, Elena Kagan, as his second nominee to the U.S Supreme Court? By all accounts, Obama wants someone who can serve as a counterweight to the intellectual heft of Chief Justice John Roberts. Regardless of how strong a liberal Kagan would prove to be, as a former dean of Harvard Law School, Kagan practically defines legal gravitas.

She's also a female, which adds to the court's gender diversity. She's young, at 50, which means she could be on the court for a quarter century. And she's never been a judge, which gives her a quality that Obama is known to have been seeking: someone to bring a different sensibility to a court that's currently dominated by judges.

That particular lack of experience also means she does not have a long record of controversial rulings that could provide fodder for the presidents political opponents.

On the other hand, Kagan is by no means a radically different pick from any of the court's current members. In some ways, she would add to the cloistered, East Coast mentality of the current court. Her lack of judicial experience could be a negative, especially with a public that thinks being a judge is pretty important.

Many of the current justices hail from New York, or have ties to the city. All but one are from east of the Mississippi River. Picking Kagan does not send a message that Obama wants the court to represent the country better geographically.

How will it be formally announced?

NBC first reported the pick around 10 p.m. last night, followed by the Post and other news organizations. All the reports were attributed to unnamed sources with some knowledge of the process.

Now, all eyes are on the White House, which is expected to make it official some time this morning.

Best guess as to how it will unfold: Look for a tweet from press secretary Robert Gibbs that a presidential announcement is coming.

Once that happens, there will be a brief period during which the press scrambles to get to the White House.

Last year, Sonia Sotomayor's name leaked out about an hour before she was formally introduced in an East Room ceremony.

What will Obama say in his announcement?

Obama most likely will talk a lot about bipartisanship. The White House and the Democrats on the Hill are not looking for a huge fight just before the midterm elections, so there's a hope that the nominee will not spark the kind of rigid, unified opposition that the Republicans have offered this year in other contexts.


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