Campus News

How Did Elena Kagan Do?

LEXINGTON, Ky. (July 9, 2010) —
Barring unforeseen circumstances, political analysts are expecting Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan to succeed retiring Justice John Paul Stevens to become the fourth female justice in the Supreme Court's history.

If Kagan is confimred, for the first time in history, three of the court's nine justices will be women.

Kagan completed her Supreme Court hearings on July 3. If you're wondering how she performed under the largest spotlight of her life, University of Kentucky political science professor Justin Wedeking should be able to give you a good idea.

As a follow up to their recent study analyzing Supreme Court nominee evasiveness, Wedeking and co-author Dion Farganis of Elon University completed a short paper reporting their results following Kagan's hearings specifically.

"Overall, she performed well," said Wedeking. "She was slightly above average in her level of candor."

Kagan answered about 69% of her questions in a "fully or very forthcoming" manner, giving her a candor "score" of 69%. This was nearly identical to the four most recent nominees and just slightly above the average for all nominees since 1955, according to Wedeking.

Interestingly, Kagan was much more forthcoming toward some senators than others, and the divide was not along party lines.

For example, Wedeking sites Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy, who told NPR that Kagan, "has been more forthcoming than certainly any nominee that I can recall since I’ve been in the Senate." According to the Wedeking/Farganis scale, Kagan answered 100% of Leahy’s questions in a fully forthcoming manner. 

Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter emerged with an entirely different view on the hearings, saying that Kagan had not given enough "substantive answers." According to the Wedeking/Farganis numbers, Kagan answered only 32% of Specter’s questions in a “fully forthcoming” manner. 

Wedeking and Farganis plan to examine the reasons behind this behavior in a future study.

There is growing criticism that candidates for the Supreme Court have become less sincere in recent years and that confirmation hearings have suffered as a result. Wedeking and Farganis challenged these views in an earlier study, claiming that there are other factors involved.

"We think there may be a connection between the senators who ask certain types of issue questions that receive less candor, but we have to examine that more carefully in the future," said Wedeking. "When senators stick to generalities, nominees are more willing to speak freely."

As Kagan began her confirmation hearings in Washington last week, Wedeking was referenced in The New York Times, among other publications, in the discussion of the honesty of Supreme Court nominees.