Like the president who nominated her, Elena Kagan has steered clear of championing the old-line civil rights positions on race-based programs and preferences – putting her squarely in the centrist Democratic mainstream but at odds with the views of some of the party’s most loyal supporters in the minority community.
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It’s a career that reflects Kagan’s political coming-of-age at a moment when the notion of de-emphasizing race was at the core of Democratic politics. Her resume notably lacks a stint doing the kind of traditional civil-rights work that other Democratic nominees could point to, as evidence of their liberal credentials.
She could even be considered the Democrats’ first post-racial Supreme Court nominee, to borrow a phrase often applied to Barack Obama.
Few civil rights leaders have criticized Kagan’s nomination publicly – much as few black civil rights leaders have been willing to publicly criticize Obama, despite sometimes grumbling over his president-of-all-people reluctance to forge race-based solutions to problems like high minority unemployment.
But for the first time in decades, civil rights groups face the question of how much orthodoxy to insist on from a Democratic Supreme Court nominee.