Thanks for the letters, Mr. Obama

Our view: We appreciate the letters Marylanders wrote at the president's behest in support of his Supreme Court nominee, but we'll hold off on rendering judgment

May 17, 2010

Dear President Obama,

Thank you so much for orchestrating the outpouring of support for your Supreme Court nominee, Elena Kagan, from Marylanders who wrote some two dozen letters to the editor of The Sun this weekend urging her swift confirmation. Although each of the letters is different, the identical formatting of the names and addresses of the letter writers and the repetition of certain salient points leaves us little doubt that we are in the midst of another attempt by Organizing for America, your political organization, to demonstrate to us that our readers support your efforts, much as it did during the debate over health care reform. We always appreciate hearing from our readers about the major issues of the day, and the fact that they were assisted in their efforts by you doesn't make their opinions any less valid. However, we regret to inform you that this weekend's flurry of letters was less than persuasive.

Certainly, the willingness of your supporters to put their personal spin on administration talking points is impressive. During the health care reform debate, the letters came so fast and furious — on one memorable day, 50 before noon — that it was at times difficult to get any work done between the new e-mail notifications popping up on our computer screens. And during the health care debate, the technique was particularly effective. Though it was clear that you had provided suggestions for topics to cover, the subject of health care is so personal, and so many people have experiences with the failings of our current system, that the letters served to humanize the debate and remind us of the stakes of the success or failure of the reform legislation. We printed several of them based on the passion, eloquence and uniqueness of the writers' thoughts.

This new batch of letters is a bit different, though. In contrast to the health care system, none of the writers appears to have any personal experience with Ms. Kagan, and given that even the U.S. senators who have interviewed her in advance of her confirmation hearings have come away with little solid sense of how she would rule on the bench, any claims readers make about what kind of justice she would be are pure speculation. In case the staff member who drafted the talking points didn't share them with you, here are the key arguments you supporters are making:

• Ms. Kagan has been a trailblazer in her legal career as the first female dean of Harvard Law School and the first female solicitor general.

• Ms. Kagan has a reputation as a consensus builder, as evidenced by her work in the Clinton administration with Sen. John McCain on tobacco legislation and her efforts at Harvard to hire conservative faculty.

• Ms. Kagan is following in the footsteps of her mentor, Justice Thurgood Marshall, who understood how people's lives are shaped by the law.

• Ms. Kagan's confirmation would mean we have three women on the Supreme Court for the first time, making it more inclusive and diverse than ever.

(Thanks to the letter writer who simply copied and pasted those points under the header, "My personal endorsement for Elena Kagan.")

Some letter writers have extrapolated from those biographical facts about Ms. Kagan to suggest that she would be particularly attuned to the rights of the disabled, or that the presence of another woman on the court would make it more sensitive to issues involving family and children (notwithstanding the fact that Ms. Kagan is unmarried and has no children, whereas Justice Antonin Scalia has nine kids). Others have lauded her as someone who will serve as a counterbalance to conservative judicial activism on the court, bristled at Republican criticisms of her qualifications or written in some cases astute analyses of the place of the judicial branch in American governance and society.

We certainly appreciate hearing the thoughts of our readers and urge them to continue sending their letters about Ms. Kagan during her confirmation hearings this summer, whether encouraged by you or not. And, Mr. Obama, we are flattered that in this digital age, you consider stacking the inbox of a newspaper's letter column to still be worth the bother. All the same, we'll hold off for the moment in rendering judgment on Ms. Kagan's nomination in the hope that we might someday soon be able to do more than speculate about what kind of justice she would be.


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