During ABC’s live coverage of President Obama’s nomination of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, Diane Sawyer and a quartet of correspondents failed to find a single thing to criticize about the new nominee. Instead, Sawyer touted it as a “history making day” (although why is unclear, since she's the fifth woman to be nominated), and touted Kagan as a feminist “trailblazer” and a “conciliator” between “the conservative and liberal wings of the Court.”
Good Morning America co-anchor George Stephanopoulos agreed Kagan had a “reputation for bringing conservatives and liberals together,” and recounted how he and Kagan worked side-by-side in Bill Clinton’s White House: “She does have a great temperament, very easy-going, a good sense of humor.” Then, as Kagan and President Obama strode to the podium, Sawyer quoted the nominee complimenting herself: “We had a soundbite from her saying she had a reputation for being a very good teacher.”
After the President and Kagan spoke, Capitol Hill correspondent Jonathan Karl noted how Republican Senators Orrin Hatch and Jon Kyl, who had supported Kagan for her current post as Solicitor General, were not going to automatically support her for the Supreme Court. But Nightline co-anchor Terry Moran disputed the notion that Kagan would have a difficult fight, citing the White House as evidence that conservatives were rallying to Kagan: “The White House does think that, despite what Jon is saying, she is strong, she’s got support of conservatives in and out of Washington, and she’ll make it.”
Kagan has already been criticized for taking an extreme liberal position in barring the military from recruiting at Harvard Law School while she was in charge. But neither that flap nor any other criticism of Kagan made it into ABC’s live coverage this morning. Instead, Sawyer noted how Kagan “loves opera,” while Stephanopoulos told viewers that former Justice Thurgood Marshall affectionately called her “Shorty” when she clerked for him in the 1980s.
Here’s a transcript of ABC’s correspondents on air just before and after her official nomination by the President:
DIANE SAWYER: We’re interrupting your programming for a few minutes because this is another history-making day. President Obama is about to introduce Solicitor General Elena Kagan as his nominee to the Supreme Court, his second female nomination to the Court. She is 50 years old, which would make her by five years the youngest person on the Court. She’s also a trailblazer — the first female dean of Harvard Law School, and the first female Solicitor General, which is the post from which the lawyer argues on behalf of the United States. In fact, she’s argued six times before the Supreme Court. And Good Morning America anchor George Stephanopoulos is with me this morning. George, tell us what you know.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, Diane, you mentioned a lot of Elena Kagan’s background. One of the things she hasn’t been is a federal judge, which will come up in her confirmation hearings. But it’s remarkable how embedded she is in President Obama’s world. Like him, she went to Harvard Law School, taught at the University of Chicago’s Law School, where they taught together. She worked for Vice President Biden during Justice Ginsberg’s confirmation hearings. She worked with many of President Obama’s top aides in the Clinton White House, and she even clerked for one of President Obama’s heroes, Justice Thurgood Marshall, and one of his mentors, Judge Abner Mikva. So she is deeply embedded in his world. You can say they are sympatico.
SAWYER: That’s right, but she was not a judge, as you point out, which is another groundbreaking move — first time that’s happened in about 40 years. And we’re told by the way on Thurgood Marshall, the towering Justice of the Court, called her “Shorty,” because she’s only 5'3" tall. I want to bring in Jake Tapper — he’s right there in the room where the announcement will be made. Jake?
JAKE TAPPER: Good morning, Diane, and good morning, George. Well, the President made his call to Solicitor General Kagan yesterday at roughly 8pm Eastern. Among the decisions — among the reasons for his decision, as you mentioned, the fact that she comes from outside what’s called the judicial monastery. She does come from the experience of an appellate court judge. And all her other would-be colleagues are former appellate court judges. In addition, of course, is that trailblazing career. She has a reputation for tremendous intellect and, when she was at Harvard Law School, she also developed the reputation as something of a consensus builder, somebody who could bring liberals and conservatives together. And though, of course this will be a contentious confirmation process, she does come to the table with that reputation, Diane.
SAWYER: And, how about that, George? She is expected to play a role as somewhat of a conciliator, the bridge across the conservative and liberal wings of the Court. In fact, she loves opera, which Justice Scalia loves. She had Justice Scalia come to Harvard when she was there, for dinner.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And she spars — she did — and she spars with him, when she argues before the Court. She has a very open, good engaging relationship with him. As Jake pointed out, she had a reputation for bringing conservatives and liberals together at Harvard Law School, when she was dean. I actually worked with her in the Clinton White House, and she does have a great temperament, very easy-going, a good sense of humor. And in her policy work, has reached across party lines on several occasions.
SAWYER: She talked once, we had a soundbite from her saying she had a reputation for being a very good teacher, and here she is:
[OBAMA AND KAGAN SPEAK]
SAWYER: Standing in the East Room, an audience of staff, Kagan family members, applauding for the new nominee for the Supreme Court, Elena Kagan, the Solicitor General. And the President cited her appreciation of diverse views, that she understands the stories of peoples’ lives behind the law. And he also heralded the fact that she would be the third woman on the Court, and will make the Court more inclusive, more representative of us as people. George, but that continues the Ivy League sweep of the Court, right?
STEPHANOPOULOS: Not only Ivy League, New York as well. The President has now appointed two Justices in a row from New York City. Of course, one’s a Met’s fan, as he pointed out, and one’s a Yankee’s fan.
What was interesting about Elena Kagan’s remarks there — she fleshed out her own personal story, but didn’t give many clues to her own, what her judicial philosophy might be, and that is going to be something that comes up a lot in the confirmation hearings, because she hasn’t been a judge, she doesn’t have much of a paper trail, no books, just a few law review articles, which could actually be an advantage in the confirmation fight ahead, which is going to stretch through the summer.
SAWYER: I want to bring in Jonathan Karl on Capitol Hill, because we know there were seven Republicans who voted to confirm her as Solicitor General. Jon, will they be on board again?
JONATHAN KARL: Don’t count on it, Diane. Already, two of the prominent conservatives who voted yes, John Kyl and Orrin Hatch, are out with statements saying don’t expect them to vote yes this time. They’re going to look at this new. And regarding what what George just said about her lack of a record on her judicial philosophy, Orrin Hatch, who voted yes for Solicitor General, said “My conclusion will be based on evidence, not blind faith.” A reference to the fact that she does not have much of a record on those judicial questions.
SAWYER: And we know that Justice Sotomayor took only three months, so any sense of the timing, Jon?
KARL: Well, Democrats on that committee are absolutely committed to having her confirmed by the Senate before the Senate goes on its August recess.
SAWYER: And, for a quick final thought, Terry Moran, who covers the Supreme Court for us. Terry?
TERRY MORAN: Well, Diane, the two factors that really went into this nomination — Elena Kagan’s confirmability, the White House does think that, despite what Jon is saying, she is strong, she’s got support of conservatives in and out of Washington, and she’ll make it. And, likeabilty — one of the things she’s demonstrated at the institutions that she’s been at, at Harvard Law School, in the Clinton administration, at the Solicitor General’s office, is an openness to people of different views, as President Obama said. And, I saw her first argument here, ever, in the Citizens United case, that campaign finance case. She’d never argued before a court before, she was at ease, and also very informal. She, despite the seriousness of the matter, she charmed the Justices a little bit, which I think President Obama hopes she can do if she gets up there.