According to everyone who knows anything about Elena Kegan, she's apparently a great consensus-builder: politically savvy, good at bringing people together in service of a common goal. The president cemented that image of her yesterday in his announcement of her nomination, praising "her fair-mindedness and skill as a consensus-builder."
But what does it mean to be a consensus-builder when we're talking about the Supreme Court? This quality of hers has been much praised, but it's also been something of an irritant to liberals, who seem to think that being a consensus-builder just means you're ideologically wishy-washy. Byard Duncan at Alternet equates "consensus-building" to holding both liberal and conservative positions:
Kagan’s philosophy may be ambiguous, but it’s not altogether unstated. Kagan is, after all, an accommodator. Like Obama, she is a consensus builder, not a hard-line activist: She’s pro-abortion rights but also pro-death penalty; she hates DADT, but has expressed support for the Defense of Marriage Act as well.
This is a bizarre take. Consensus-building isn't about having a haphazard collection of policy positions that makes people on both sides of the aisle likely to agree with you. We need only to look at the Court's other famous consensus-builder, Chief Justice John Roberts, to see that's not the case. Not only was Roberts known as a consensus builder, he actually made it is his goal to have the Court he presided over produce more unanimous decisions. Yet, somehow, Roberts' conservative credentials aren't in dispute.
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