More on the Kagan Partial Birth Abortion Scandal

At Slate, William Saletan offers an interpretation of Elena Kagan’s role in producing a supposedly scientific report on partial birth abortion:

Fourteen years ago, to protect President Clinton’s position on partial-birth abortions, Elena Kagan doctored a statement by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Conservatives think this should disqualify her from the Supreme Court. They understate the scandal. It isn’t Kagan we should worry about. It’s the whole judiciary.

Saletan cites our analysis of the scandal, but argues that Kagan was just doing her job as a White House political operative. The real lesson, he says, is that courts should stop being naive about the provenance of “scientific” reports. I think he has a point:

[I]f conservatives are being naïve about the relationship between science and politics, Kagan is being cynical about it. “There was no way in which I would have or could have intervened with ACOG, which is a respected body of physicians, to get it to change its medical views,” she told senators on Wednesday. With this clever phrasing, she obscured the truth: By reframing ACOG’s judgments, she altered their political effect as surely as if she had changed them.
She also altered their legal effect. And this is the scandal’s real lesson: Judges should stop treating the statements of scientific organizations as apolitical. Such statements, like the statements of any other group, can be loaded with spin. This one is a telling example.
National Review, CNSNews, and Power Line make a damning case that courts mistook the ACOG statement for pure fact. In 2000, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Nebraska’s ban on partial-birth abortions, it cited ACOG: “The District Court also noted that a select panel of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists concluded that D&X ‘may be the best or most appropriate procedure in a particular circumstance to save the life or preserve the health of a woman.'” That sentence, we now know, was written by Kagan.

Saletan’s analysis should be read in full. He concludes:

All of us should be embarrassed that a sentence written by a White House aide now stands enshrined in the jurisprudence of the Supreme Court, erroneously credited with scientific authorship and rigor. Kagan should be most chastened of all. She fooled the nation’s highest judges. As one of them, she had better make sure they aren’t fooled again.

Unfortunately, I don’t think there is any reason to think that Kagan has any intention of avoiding being “fooled” by left-wing spin masquerading as science or, worse, as legal analysis.

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