Why the younger generation doesn't care about the debate over the latest Supreme Court nominee.

The law, lawyers, and the court.
May 26 2010 5:36 PM

The Kagan Kids

Why the younger generation doesn't care about the debate over the latest Supreme Court nominee.

Read Slate's complete Elena Kagan coverage.

Elena Kagan. Click image to expand.
Elena Kagan

As the Elena Kagan Bore'Em to Death Tour rolls on into Memorial Day weekend, it's clear that almost no narrative about her is going to stick. A CBS poll released today shows that almost three weeks after her nomination for the Supreme Court, 72 percent of Americans have yet to form an opinion on her. And since she's all but disappeared from the front pages, it's not clear how we're going to get to know her better before the confirmation hearings, which are scheduled for the end of June. The meta-narrative about Kagan seems to be that there is no meta-narrative about Kagan. This doubtless makes the White House very happy.

Dahlia Lithwick Dahlia Lithwick

Dahlia Lithwick writes about the courts and the law for Slate. Follow her on Twitter.

Efforts to unearth a judicial philosophy or any clear constitutional preferences continue to show Kagan to be equivocal, careful, and impossible to know. That makes the search for a compelling Kagan narrative even more imperative. But there's no there there. As my colleague John Dickerson pointed out a few weeks ago, the White House's early effort to present her to America as champion of the little guy (and gal!) was destined to fizzle. Kagan has many great virtues, but being an ordinary American champion of ordinary American nonchampions probably isn't one of them. Lacking Sonia Sotomayor's up-from-poverty life story and John Roberts' sprinkled-with-fairy-dust charm, Kagan has been halfheartedly sketched by her enemies as a snarling hater of the military, and by her friends as awfully nice. From a narrative standpoint, I'd call that a draw.

Advertisement

Which is why the White House probably thinks its work here is done. The nominee will be confirmed with minimal bruising. And while Democrats are certainly wasting yet another opportunity to engage Americans in a debate about the courts, at least nobody is being hurt by this shallow conversation. Nobody, that is, if you consider the creeping sexism, looksism, and homophobia surrounding the Kagan nomination to be painless.

I don't. I've been worried that with all this attention focused on Kagan's wardrobe, gender, marital status, and dating history, we've once again allowed the public conversation about courts to be swallowed up by the kind of toxic race and gender stereotypes we heard during Sonia Sotomayor's hearings. Leave it to call-in radio to show me why I am wrong.

Every time I've been on a radio show on the subject of Kagan's wardrobe/softball playing/marital status, some twentysomething caller has taken me to school. It turns out, they invariably tell me, that twentysomethings just don't care if their Supreme Court justices are black, white, Jewish, Protestant, gay, or straight. Every day someone under the age of 30 either sends me an e-mail or tweet or a Facebook post reminding me that those of us making a huge big fat media deal about the nominee's race, religion, sexual preferences or marital status are quickly becoming cultural dinosaurs.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Meet the New Bosses

How the Republicans would run the Senate.

The Government Is Giving Millions of Dollars in Electric-Car Subsidies to the Wrong Drivers

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Cheez-Its. Ritz. Triscuits.

Why all cracker names sound alike.

Friends Was the Last Purely Pleasurable Sitcom

The Eye

This Whimsical Driverless Car Imagines Transportation in 2059

Medical Examiner

Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?  

A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.

The Afghan Town With a Legitimately Good Tourism Pitch

A Futurama Writer on How the Vietnam War Shaped the Series

  News & Politics
Photography
Sept. 21 2014 11:34 PM People’s Climate March in Photos Hundreds of thousands of marchers took to the streets of NYC in the largest climate rally in history.
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
  Life
Quora
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Sept. 21 2014 1:15 PM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 5  A spoiler-filled discussion of "Time Heist."
  Arts
Television
Sept. 21 2014 9:00 PM Attractive People Being Funny While Doing Amusing and Sometimes Romantic Things Don’t dismiss it. Friends was a truly great show.
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 21 2014 11:38 PM “Welcome to the War of Tomorrow” How Futurama’s writers depicted asymmetrical warfare.
  Health & Science
The Good Word
Sept. 21 2014 11:44 PM Does This Name Make Me Sound High-Fat? Why it just seems so right to call a cracker “Cheez-It.”
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.