Kagan's Path to the Bench

The White House was eager to proclaim this morning that Elena Kagan had passed her test. Late last week and over the weekend, at least 17 editorial boards around the country wrote glowingly of her credentials—excerpts of which administration officials sent around to reporters to drive the narrative in their favor.

Her path from here is likely to be smooth. Kagan's confirmation will be the first priority of the Senate Judiciary Committee following the July 4 recess. Even though the vote in the full Senate will likely fall along party lines (primarily a symptom of approaching elections), Kagan will pick up some Republicans. Sen. Lindsey Graham has signaled he'll vote to confirm. Sens. Orrin Hatch and Scott Brown are being courted for "yes" votes. Allowing for plenty of back-and-forth discussion and the usual theatrics on the Senate floor, two top Democratic staffers say they expect Kagan to come up for a vote at the end of this month or, at the latest, in early August.

When that happens, there's little debate in Washington that she will be confirmed, and handily. Kagan managed to emerge from her week under the lights unscathed in part because she embraced a strategy she once criticized in a 1995 research paper; very much in line with most recent nominees, she deflected virtually all questions about future cases. In some ways she came out looking better than before, humanizing herself with a number of charming one-liners that earned the favor of Republicans who began the hearings determined to find something—anything—problematic with her record.

For now, Kagan will do what her predecessors have done at this stage: stay home and prepare for her Rose Garden statement with the president. Of course, nothing in Washington is ever certain until the ink dries, but somewhere in town, a tailor could reasonably schedule to begin fitting Kagan for her robes.

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