The Obama administration dismissed on Thursday criticism from Senator Arlen Specter (D-Penn) that Elena Kagan avoided "substantive discussion" during her confirmation hearings, with the president's top spokesman insisting that the Supreme Court nominee will ultimately be confirmed for a position on the bench.
"I didn't see Senator Specter's note on that," Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said of the remarks by the Pennsylvania Democrat during the last day of questioning for Kagan. "I know at one point in the hearings on television he said she was being very forthcoming. Obviously you are not going to get into discussing cases that you may hear before the Supreme Court and that certainly that has been the case for quite some time."
"Again," Gibbs added, "I think she was clear and she was forthcoming and I think she is not only going to be approved by the committee but approved by the entire Senate."
Confirmation does appear to await Kagan, who had no noticeable gaffes during her two days of testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Though it is not beyond the realm of reason that Specter may end up voting no. The senator voted against Kagan for her current post as Solicitor General in part because she was not forthcoming during those confirmation hearings. That said, he was a Republican at the time and did offer praise for Kagan even after critiquing her responses.
"She was more forthcoming than most," he said at a press conference on Wednesday. "She would answer the television question. Nobody would answer that."
Specter's broader concerns, however, remain basically unaddressed. Supreme Court confirmations are deliberately devoid of detailed legal debates, in large part because candidates want to avoid discussing issues they might have to consider; but mainly because it is politically expedient for them to do so. Kagan wrote about this phenomenon (or problem) back in 1995 -- calling confirmation hearings vacuous and vapid. But she disavowed that position when she was before the Judiciary Committee and her likely confirmation suggests that next court nominee will simply do the same.