Elena Kagan Was Just 'Trying to...Chart a Centrist Course' for Clinton White House?

Sheryl Gay Stolberg examines some of Kagan's papers from her days as a Clinton adviser and finds both Kagan and Clinton to be sensible centrists, even on abortion.

Elena Kagan's "centrist course"?

That was White House reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg's characterization of Obama's Supreme Court nominee, in her Saturday review of recently released documents from the Clinton library on Kagan's days as an adviser to the president: "Glimpses of Kagan's Views in Clinton White House."

A new cache of documents from Elena Kagan's days as an adviser to President Bill Clinton shows that she frequently scribbled notes in the margins of memorandums yet rarely expressed forceful views. But on at least one question that came before the Clinton White House - whether to make assisted suicide a federal crime - Ms. Kagan was adamant.

"I think this is a fairly terrible idea," she wrote in January 1998.

But the fact that one of Kagan's "rare" expressions of a forceful view came from the left - a quasi-defense of assisted suicide - didn't stop Stolberg from seeing Kagan as charting a "centrist course."

Ms. Kagan's missives in the margins offer little hint of how she might behave if confirmed to the Supreme Court. But the 46,700 pages released Friday by the National Archives do offer glimpses into her thinking, revealing a woman who, like the president she worked for, was trying to balance competing policy objectives and chart a centrist course on matters as varied as abortion, race relations, immigration, AIDS, gun rights and embryonic stem cell research.

In contrast, Times legal reporter Charlie Savage examined a separate batch of documents on Friday - memos from Kagan's days serving as a law clerk under former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall - and found a "liberal sensibility" at work:

Largely written with a liberal sensibility on a variety of matters from criminal rights to environmental regulations, the memorandums could provide ammunition to conservative critics of her nomination, while comforting liberal skeptics.