The relative ease with which Elena Kagan is almost certain to be confirmed for the Supreme Court is a political victory for the White House and tells us a few important things about the current political environment. Kagan's imminent confirmation, particularly when paired with Justice Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation last year, demonstrates that when the White House is faced with contained and discrete political choices, they are able to make good decisions. The Obama administration has nominated two relatively uncontroversial, qualified candidates. Sotomayor raised some partisan ire, more for her "wise Latina" comment than for her record, while the Republican attacks on Kagan have focused on the activist judge fear mongering which is really little more than poorly concealed partisan politics, but these criticisms got little traction outside of the Republican base.
The confirmation narrative will likely not look too different from the one surrounding Justice Sonia Sotomayor. President Obama will nominate a judge with a strong resume including a degree from an elite university. The judge will have a moderately liberal voting record and perhaps be a person of color, a woman or both. Liberal interest groups will support the nominee, but some more progressive groups will be critical of the candidate's pro-business history. The right wing will attack the nominee as yet another sign of the imminent socialist apocalypse and identify minor scandals and gaffes which they will seek to make into bigger issues. The nomination fight will end with the nominee being confirmed with almost unanimous Democratic support and perhaps the support of a small handful of Republican senators as well.
The problem with reading Republican talking points as your questions at confirmation hearings is that sometimes the racism comes through pretty strongly. Senator Jeff Sessions' (R-AL) comment to Sonia Sotomayor "You have suggested that a judge's background and experience will impact their decision, which goes against the American ideal that a judge will be fair to every party, and every day when they put on that robe they will put aside their personal prejudices," reveals the extent to which Sessions seems to believe that the real American backgrounds do not include those of people like Judge Sotomayor.
While the decision by the California Supreme Court upheld a discriminatory ballot initiative, it should not have been a surprise. The vote by the California Supreme Court was not even close as Proposition 8 was upheld by a 6-1 majority. The lone dissenter was Justice Carlos Moreno. Much of the coverage of the decision overlooked the important point that the vote was on, excuse the pun, straight party lines. All six judges who voted in the affirmative had been initially appointed by Republican governors. Moreno is the only Supreme Court justice in California appointed by a Democrat.