Last Thursday, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, a White House correspondent for The New York Times, penned a prescient paragraph:
"Most Americans have never heard of Aharon Barak," she wrote. "If they tune in to Elena Kagan's Supreme Court confirmation hearings, they will."
Those hearings are underway. The solicitor general continues to sit patiently, expressionless, at a table in the Hart Senate Office Building, Room 216, before the Senate Judiciary Committee and a dozen photographers. And just as Stolberg predicted, several Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have invoked Barak's name.
So, who is Aharon Barak? Stolberg gives us some brief, pertinent biographical information:
Judge Barak, the retired president of the Supreme Court of Israel, has advocated an expansive role for the judiciary in his home country.
And why has he become so integral to these hearings? Stolberg again:
In this country, he has emerged over the past few days as a kind of liberal judicial villain for Republicans and conservatives, who are trying to turn Ms. Kagan’s praise for him against her.
In 2006, while dean of Harvard Law School, Ms. Kagan introduced Judge Barak during an award ceremony as "my judicial hero." She added, "He is the judge or justice in my lifetime whom, I think, best represents and has best advanced the values of democracy and human rights, of the rule of law and of justice."
Last Wednesday, The Washington Post reported on a conference call, convened by Americans United for Life, in which Robert Bork, announcing his official opposition to the Kagan nomination, criticized the solicitor general for her laudatory remarks. He referred to Barak as "the least competent judge on the planet."
You can watch a video of Kagan's comments about Barak here, courtesy of the Senate Judiciary Committee.