By Isikoff, Michael
Newsweek , Vol. 155, No. 15
Byline: Michael Isikoff
While much of Washington has been preoccupied with health care, a small group of White House lawyers has been focused on another perennially contentious issue: naming the next Supreme Court justice. Although there are no guarantees, most court watchers expect John Paul Stevens, the 89-year-old longtime liberal lion, to announce his retirement soon, perhaps as early as next month, after the court holds its last oral argument of the current session. One leading frontrunner to replace him: Solicitor General Elena Kagan. A former Clinton White House lawyer and Harvard Law School dean, Kagan has certain advantages over U.S. appellate court Judge Diane Wood, another shortlist candidate, especially to White House aides looking to avoid a confirmation battle. At 49, she is 10 years younger than Wood and, never having been a judge, lacks the lengthy paper trail that could be picked apart by critics. Kagan is also viewed as a moderate who has taken hardline stands on major terrorism issues. And she has a history of getting along with conservatives: Kagan once even hosted a Harvard Law School dinner that warmly celebrated the 20th anniversary of conservative icon Antonin Scalia's appointment to the court.
In an effort to rally its base, the conservative Judicial Crisis Network last week distributed an e-mail attacking Kagan for endorsing Aracial preferencesA in a Texas case, but other conservative activists privately admitted that the brief in question merely restated the Obama administration's belief that race should be a AfactorA in college admissions. …