As has been long anticipated, President Obama today announced he would nominate the US. Solicitor General “and my friend, Elena Kagan” to the US Supreme Court to replace retiring Justice John Paul Stevens.
Calling Kagan – the first female dean of Harvard Law School and the first woman confirmed as Solicitor General – a “trailblazing leader,” President Obama told those gathered in the East Room of the White House for her announcement that his friend embodies the same “excellence, independence, integrity and passion for the law” as does Stevens. He also said she will ultimately provide the same kind of leadership on the highest court in the land as did Stevens – helping justices find common ground.
“Elena is respected and admired not just for her intellect and record of achievement, but also for her temperament, her openness to a broad array of viewpoints, her habit – to borrow a phrase from Justice Stevens — of understanding before disagreeing, her fair-mindedness and skill as a consensus-builder,” said the president, who first met her when both were members of the faculty at the University of Chicago School of Law.
The president said her consensus-building traits “were particularly evident during her tenure as dean” at Harvard Law School from 2003 through 2009. “At a time when many believed that the Harvard faculty had gotten a little one-sided in its viewpoint, she sought to recruit prominent conservative scholars and spur a healthy debate on campus.” Kagan encouraged students to “respectfully exchange ideas and seek common ground. Because she believes, as I do, that exposure to a broad array of perspectives is the foundation not just for a sound legal education, but of a successful life in the law.”
Mr. Obama joked that Kagan’s “appreciation for diverse views may also come in handy as a die-hard Mets fan serving alongside her new colleague-to-be, Yankees fan Justice (Sonia) Sotomayor, who I believe has ordered a pinstripe robe for the occasion.”
If confirmed, Kagan, 50, would be the youngest member of the current Supreme Court, the third Jew, the third woman, and the 9th Ivy Leaguer. She once clerked for the late Justice Thurgood Marshall, who called his 5’3” clerk “shorty.”
In her remarks, Kagan elaborated on the president’s praise that she sees the law “not as an intellectual exercise or words on a page, but as it affects the lives of ordinary people…Someone as gifted as Elena could easily have settled into a comfortable life in a corporate law practice. Instead, she chose a life of service: service to her students, service to her country, service to the law, and to all those whose lives it shapes.”
Kagan said throughout most of her professional life, she’d “had the simple joy of teaching, of trying to communicate to students why I so loved the law: not just because it’s challenging and endlessly interesting, although it certainly is that, but because law matters, because it keeps us safe, because it protects our most fundamental rights and freedoms, and because it is the foundation of our democracy.”
She said that the day has “just a touch of sadness in it for me,…because my parents aren’t here to share it. They were both, as the president said, the children of immigrants and the first in their families to go to college. My father was the kind of lawyer who used his skills and training to represent everyday people and to improve a community. My mother was a proud public schoolteacher, as are my two brothers: the kind of teachers whom students remember for the rest of their lives. My parents’ lives and their memory remind me every day of the impact public service can have and I pray every day that I live up to the example they set.”