Kagan's Alleged Distance From the "Mainstream"
In their efforts to find something objectionable about Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, some conservatives are resorting to an argument that is so vague as to seem innocuous, but that is also consonant with a serious strain of invidious prejudice: as a lifelong New Yorker, she's inhabitted a liberal "cocoon" that is remote from the mainstream life of most Americans. Kathleen Parker offered a particularly explicit version of this argument in a Washington Post column yesterday. Here's a sample:
Certainly New York City dwellers would argue that they struggle with ordinary concerns, just in a more dense environment. But New York, like other urban areas, tends to be more liberal than the vast rest of the country. More than half the country also happens to be Protestant, yet with Kagan, the court will feature three Jews, six Catholics and nary a Protestant. Fewer than one-fourth of Americans are Catholic, and 1.7 percent are Jewish.
This claim that Kagan's nomination violates some unwritten rules of geographical and ethnic balance on the Supreme Court is spreading pretty rapidly. I did a fairly systematic response over at FiveThirtyEight, noting that (1) this wouldn't be first time the Court might had three New Yorkers; (2) life in New York isn't exactly the liberal cacoon that conservatives so often describe it as; and (3) geographical background or even diversity of experience has not in the past been a particulary good predictor of judicial philosphy or contributions to the Court.
If Parker's argument and many like it strike you as risking encouragement to some very old prejudices, you should check out my response.