This will be a brief post to note a turning point in American history. Much like the election of Barack Obama as President, it is difficult to completely appreciate the historic nature of the nomination of Elena Kagan to the U.S. Supreme Court in the same way that it will be appreciated decades from now. But the nomination of Kagan to the U.S. Supreme Court is a moment in American history worth noting. Prior to her nomination, women were often nominated to the court as a token selection. Typically only one or two females have sat on the court over approximately the last twenty five years. Barack Obama has nominated two females to fill the first two Supreme Court vacancies of his presidency and, in doing so, he changed the selection of female nominees from a token political move to a normal occurrence. There have now been four women to have served on the court and three are serving currently, making up one third of the nine justices. While she represents the status quo and lack of diversity in terms of her ivy league education and her religion (Judaism), it is nonetheless a good day in this democracy in that the way female nominees to the court (and perhaps in the legal profession generally) has been forever changed.
Elena Kagan is President Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court. She is a former law school dean at Harvard and has served in the Clinton and Obama administrations. Her latest position is as Solicitor General for the Obama administration in which she argues cases before the Supreme Court. Unlike most recent Supreme Court nominees, Kagan does not have experience as a judge and she has been involved in some controversy. The writers at the Political Panorama weigh in on whether they feel Kagan will be confirmed and whether she should be confirmed.
The economy is on a mini rollercoaster ride and the federal budget is in dire straits. These problems cannot be swept under the rug. Nonetheless, Obama’s first 18 months have been more productive than any president since President Johnson.
A few of his accomplishments are particularly noteworthy. First his signing of the economic stimulus package gave the economy a much needed shot in the arm. Those on both sides of the aisle agree that at the very least, the stimulus – legislation of a magnitude rarely seen since President Roosevelt – kept the bottom from dropping out of the economy.
As everyone hopefully knows by now, he also passed healthcare reform after more than a year of debate – slow and cautious by any standard despite claims that it was rammed through Congress. The legislation provides protections for consumers against corporate abuse (preexisting conditions, among others) while providing subsidies to individuals and families to enable them to afford healthcare. Despite imperfections, this was no insignificant piece of legislation. This is easily the most significant progress in health insurance since President Johnson’s enactment of Medicare.
Additionally, Obama passed legislation regulating Wall Street – the most substantial effort for corporate accountability arguably since President Roosevelt. A combination of consumer protections and corporate regulations, the legislation is likely to have serious positive effect.
President Obama has also built a rather extensive environmental record ranging from conservation to alternative energy which is music to my ears. Recently, Obama provided a $2 billion investment in a developing a green economy. It’s inevitable that the world will move toward alternative energy and, regardless of one’s views on global warming, it makes little sense to oppose America being at the forefront of that transition.
Further, in just over 18 months Obama will have made two Supreme Court picks both of whom are approximately 50 years old – Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor and soon-to-be Supreme Court Justice Kagan. They will likely affect an entire generation of law.
Regardless of one’s views on the issues, there is little doubt President Obama has been very effective in just over a year in office. Obama could have taken the easy road and sought easy issues and legislation, spoken a few key manipulative soundbites, and face a much easier midterm election situation. But rather than hit the ‘Easy Button,’ he has sought challenges and made compromises when necessary without compromising his underlying values. I cannot help but respect that.