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Ms. Kagan Regrets

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Cole Porter's 1934 song, "Miss Otis Regrets," a wry blues tale about a society lady indisposed to answer questions, had its modern variation last week during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on President Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court, Elena Kagan.

In the prior post, you read how thoroughly the president's staff prepared Ms. Kagan for the hearings by subjecting her to Murder Boards, intense practice sessions in which tough questions were fired at her repeatedly and she gave her answers to those questions repeatedly. Apparently, part of the preparation also included not answering some questions.

Jon Stewart seized on this strategy in his coverage of the hearings on The Daily Show first by setting it up:

Perhaps this year will be Elena Kagan's chance to demonstrate the proper manner in which to answer committee questions in a forthright, non-evasive, honest, judicially transparent way, so that we may, as a nation, finally have the Supreme Court confirmation conversation that we deserve.

Mr. Stewart then followed his lead-in with quick cuts of about half a dozen video sound bites from the hearing in which Ms. Kagan refused to comment or said that a comment would not be appropriate.

Linda Greenhouse also seized on the refusals in the New York Times. Ms. Greenhouse, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1998 for her coverage of the Supreme Court and teaches at Yale Law School, wrote, "A hearing like this represents a lost opportunity for the public to actually learn something about how judges think about what the Constitution means."

Because of the highly-polarized political aspects of such legal hearings, candidates for the Supreme Court can invoke caution or appropriateness in not answering; because of the public's low expectations of integrity in the political world, politicians often get away with ducking tough questions.

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