We Need More Than Obama’s Trust To Support Kagan

With her limited paper trail, we need more than vague promises from President Obama to support his latest Supreme Court nominee.

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In fact, I’d argue the exact opposite. We don’t need less democracy–that is, less transparency, less participation in the process, less accountability–we need more democracy. We need more knowledge about the ways decisions are being made, more knowledge about the consequences of those decisions. We don’t need fewer people involved; we need more people involved, more perspectives from more segments of black communities than the ones we hear from presently. Finally, we need more rather than less accountability. Just like we need to know more information about how our representatives make their decisions, we need to have a larger capacity to vote them out of office if they go against our wishes. Trust should come as a consequence of transparency and accountability. Trust should almost never serve as a substitute for transparency and accountability.

Which brings us to Obama and Kagan. Obama is basically saying that we as citizens don’t need to know anything about Kagan other than the fact that he appointed her. Her lack of a legal track record? Unimportant. Her shaky record in dealing with racial and gender diversity? Unimportant. What is important is that he knows her. And if he knows her, we should trust his judgment and support her without pause.

This is the type of thing I expected more from his predecessor. And even though I agree with him far more than I agreed with President George W. Bush, I find it no less distasteful. He is substituting trust for a transparent record. President Obama has every right to nominate the candidate of his choice. But rather than marching in lockstep with President Obama because we trust him, now is the time we should be extremely critical. We shouldn’t want a group of unelected black elites making secret decisions without full information. We shouldn’t want our president to present us with the equivalent of secret candidates without full information. If Kagan’s answers do not meet our standard, we should urge our senators to reject her.

Lester K. Spence is an assistant professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

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