Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan won a significant endorsement Friday from appellate practitioner Miguel Estrada, a conservative whose own nomination for an appeals court seat languished and died at the hands of Senate Democrats in 2003.
"Elena possesses a formidable intellect, an exemplary temperament and a rare ability to disagree with others without being disagreeable," wrote Estrada, partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher in D.C., in a letter to Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the chair and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, respectively. "She is calm under fire and mature and deliberate in her judgments."
Estrada, who said he first met Kagan 27 years ago when they were both Harvard Law School 1Ls, had endorsed her for solicitor general as well last year. But the fact that he reaffirmed his views for the new nomination may carry weight with conservatives who distinguish between the two jobs and say she is not experienced enough for the Supreme Court. Republicans still view Democrats' treatment of Estrada's D.C. Circuit nomination with bitterness, adding to the importance of his letter, which you can read here (.pdf) via The Washington Post.
Acknowledging that his endorsement might harm Kagan's liberal credentials, Estrada said in his letter, "I should make it clear that I believe her views on the subjects that are relevant to her pending nomination -- including the scope of the judicial role, interpretive approaches to the procedural and substantive law, and the balance of power among various institutions of government -- are as firmly center-left as my own are center-right. If Elena is confirmed, I would expect her rulings to fall well within the mainstream of current legal thought, although on the side of what is popularly conceived as 'progressive.' This should come as a surprise to exactly no one."
Estrada also dismissed the criticism of Kagan's lack of judicial experience. "Like Louis Brandeis, Felix Frankfurter, Robert Jackson, Byron White, Lewis Powell, and William Rehnquist -- none of whom arrived at the Court with prior judicial service -- she could become one of our great justices."