Kagan, “Jewish Bolshevism,” and the Legacy of a Nomination

“Jewish Bolshevism” will not die. At least the idea of a Jewish socialist plot to take over our American judicial system has been kept alive by some on the religious right who opposed the nomination of Elena Kagan for the Supreme Court. Now that Kagan has been confirmed by the Senate, and California’s Proposition 8 banning gay marriage has been overturned, rightist activists have achieved one of their goals: discrediting the judicial system and Democratic support for justice issues in the eyes of their base. All this is just in time for the midterm elections.

So how did all this happen? In May of this year, Manuel Miranda, a noted right-wing activist, sent out a podcast warning about Kagan’s Jewish, New York background:

I think the real concern is, the question has to be, is Elena Kagan still a socialist? And the reason I say that is because in her early writings, in her early life, in the formation of her political sense, it is pretty clear that she is an American socialist. She comes from that background. I grew up in New York, she grew up in New York. I’m very familiar with the sort of Jewish socialist culture in New York, which has an enormous pedigree, has done wonderful things in promoting a way of life and developing American society, but at the end of the day is still socialist.

This is a slightly disguised echo of the charge that has circulated among anti-Semites at least as early as the October 1917 Communist Revolution in Russia when a pamphlet titled “The Jewish Bolshevism” was circulated along with the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the ur-text of much of modern Western anti-Semitic screeds. Jews, the authors of the pamphlet contended, fomented the Communist revolution as part of an effort to spread socialism around the world. For Miranda, Kagan’s origin in “Hymietown,” to use Jesse Jackson’s designation of New York, meant that she could not escape her religious and cultural Socialism.

The Washington Post syndicated columnist, Kathleen Parker, wrote, “What is Kagan’s geography? What is her anchorage, her port of call? Coincidentally, she shares the same hometown as the other two women on the Court. Assuming Kagan is confirmed, all three women will hail from New York. Kagan grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Sonia Sotomayor is from the Bronx, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg is from Brooklyn.” They do not represent real America, she contends. Living in New York is not the same as living in the rest of America, “not the same cultural marinade.”

Pat Buchanan also weighed in on Kagan’s nomination, lamenting the fact that the Democrats, for him in the thrall of Jewish socialism, did not nominate a Catholic or a white Protestant:

Indeed, of the last seven justices nominated by Democrats JFK, LBJ, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama, one was black, Marshall; one was Puerto Rican, Sonia Sotomayor. The other five were Jews: Arthur Goldberg, Abe Fortas, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Stephen Breyer, and Elena Kagan.

If Kagan is confirmed, Jews, who represent less than 2 percent of the US population, will have 33 percent of the Supreme Court seats.

Is this the Democrats’ idea of diversity?

If Kagan is confirmed, the Court will consist of three Jews and six Catholics (who represent not quite a fourth of the country), but not a single Protestant, though Protestants remain half the nation and our founding faith. If Kagan is confirmed, three of the four justices nominated by Democratic presidents will be from New York City: Kagan from the Upper West Side, Sotomayor from the Bronx, Ruth Bader Ginsburg from Brooklyn. Breyer is from San Francisco.

What kind of diversity is this—either in geography or life experience?

The linking of Jewish socialism and gay rights is also part of the agenda. Nathanael Kapner, writing for Truthseeker, says, “THE THIRD ZIONIST JEW, who is alleged to be a lesbian, is about to be installed to the bench of the highest court in America. If confirmed, (and this is likely given Jewish control of Capitol Hill), Elena Kagan will join her fellow Jews, Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Stephen Breyer, to round out the Zionist trio on the Supreme Court.” Of course, it’s not just the Supreme Court that is tainted; it is all of Capitol Hill. Conservative activist Richard Viguerie is reported to have said, “The more quickly we can identify [Kagan] as an ideological liberal, the easier it is for us to communicate to the American people how radical the president is.”

Of course, diversity and anti-Jewish sentiments are not new to the process of choosing Supreme Court nominees. In a famous case from the Nixon years, US Senator Roman Hruska (Republican, Nebraska), defending Nixon’s nominee G. Harrold Carswell, stated, “Even if he were mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren’t they, and a little chance? We can’t have all Brandeises, Frankfurters and Cardozos.” It should be noted that of the three justices mentioned by Hruska, two, Frankfurter and Cardozo, were Jews from New York, while Justice Brandeis was from Boston.

It is interesting to see the persistence of these anti-Jewish attitudes in an America that is seeing more and more Jews and Jewish organizations voting Republican and making common cause with the religious right over domestic social issues as well as support for Israel. Such realities seem not to touch the powerful fantasies of those seeing America’s shifting demographics and yearning for an imagined, halcyon past.

In the debate over judicial nominations, there is ample room for arguing over political and ideological issues in the law. Who is going to sit in judgment over our most important cases is worthy of high debate and intelligent discussion. Dragging out the old canards of Jewish socialist internationalism and sexual orientation denigrates our political process and stands in direct opposition to America’s founding principle of separation of religion and state in which there is to be no religious test for public office.

GDNEWBY@emory.edu'

Gordon D. Newby is professor of Jewish, Islamic and Comparative Studies at Emory University.