Borrowing a line from one of her Harvard colleagues, the Washington Post entitled its June 10 front-page profile of Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, "Her work is her life is her work."*
But the 60-paragraph story by staff writers Ann Gerhart and Philip Rucker shed barely any light on the judicial philosophy that Kagan's life work demonstrates. Instead, Gerhart and Rucker presented a gauzy profile that rehashed the usual trivia -- Kagan loves poker and the opera -- while painting Kagan as a workaholic who still has time to lend an ear or a shoulder to cry on to friends in distress:
She has arrived at the age of 50 in a blaze of accomplishment. But her achievements can obscure how relatively narrow her world has been.
She made her life the law and became consumed by it -- and happily so, by all accounts. Her parents are no longer living, and she sees her brothers, Marc and Irving, Yale University graduates who teach public school in New York City, usually at holidays.
Most of the people in Kagan's life are important people, bound to her in tightly drawn concentric circles. Her friends are elite lawyers of a certain set or Democratic operatives with staying power. She cultivates their company, holds their confidences, gives them the best presents and solicits their ideas, said several friends among the four dozen people interviewed for this article.
Many high-energy super-achievers strive for a sanctuary of home or hobby or nature away from the relentless pressures of the workplace, even as they bang away on their BlackBerry and brag how little sleep they require. Kagan seems to be the rare person who has moved fluidly up and through the corridors of power with no apparent need for this separate sphere.
"Her work is her life is her work," says Charles Fried, a Harvard Law professor.
He credits her with grafting a sense of community onto the school's prickly and insular culture in her six years as dean.
"To call her a bloodless organization person running her organization would be a terrible mistake," Fried says of Kagan's ceaseless entertaining, dinner-going and speech-giving while dean. "She did those things with real affection, not just for the institution but for the people."
Yet the friendship her intimates describe seems curiously one-sided; it is one in which Kagan gives freely of her support but seeks none in return.
"I went through a very contentious divorce," says Laurence Tribe, another Harvard Law professor who has known Kagan for more than 20 years, "and she was one of the very few people I could talk to about it. It's because you could trust her. She made me feel that I would get through it.
"She's a great listener, and I think that will endear her to her fellow justices," says Tribe, who is on leave from Harvard while working at the Justice Department. "She's likely to make them feel that she cares what they think."
That's great, but Kagan is not up for a marriage counselor gig, she's nominated to the highest court of law in the land.
It's not wholly illegitimate for the media to devote some resources to exploring the personal and social dimensions of a Supreme Court nominee's life, but ultimately these details are of little or no consequence to the job itself.
Yet today, Post editors gave their front-page readers what essentially amounts to a Style section profile in lieu of a meatier profile that might examine the liberal leanings discernible in Kagan's work product.
*the headline for the online version reads, "Kagan has many achievements, but her world has been relatively narrow."