Is it realistic to think that Kagan can waltz into the Supreme Court and turn a lifelong conservative, even an occasionally wavering one? “That’s just preposterous. That’s not going to happen,” says one former Kennedy clerk. “He’s not going to be swayed by Kagan no matter how nice a person she is.” But perhaps the White House has a more nuanced idea of how Kagan may affect the direction of the Court…

But what’s most important, her backers say, is her ability to work the process; her skill as a consensus builder, they argue, could eventually make a difference. Kennedy finds himself alone among the nine Justices on some issues, says Goldstein, and the question is which block of four can find the legal common ground to form a majority with him. “It’s not infrequent that Kennedy is in a four-one-four posture and it’s how you adapt to him that is what matters,” Goldstein says. “It’s not that she has intellectual capacities that others don’t, but coalition building is a different thing, and she has an innate ability to find win-win solutions.”