Monday, May 10, 2010

On Justice (?) Kagan: my two cents*

The blogosphere is abuzz once again with President Obama's new SCOTUS pick: former HLS Dean Elena Kagan. There is a thoughtful post by Dan Markel over at Prawfsblawg commenting on Kagan and her HLS hiring policy, and a scathing article by Colorado law prof Paul Campos describing Kagan as a risky pick over at TNR. A much-lauded law dean, credited with bringing intellectual diversity over at HLS, a one-time candidate for the presidency of Harvard University, and with so many other sterling credentials under her belt, a good number of folks from different circles have positive things to say about Kagan. But apparently her critics still think she's a whole lot of mystery.
So I thought I'd offer my two cents as a former LLM student at Harvard. Here are three reasons based on personal experience why Kagan would make for a good justice.
1. A firm handshake. Handshakes are a staple for persons in authority, even for cloistered Supreme Court justices. A firm one is therefore a must. Kagan shook my hand, or rather, maybe I shook hers, (who knows, we both followed protocol) during my graduation as an LLM student at Harvard two years ago, her last one as Dean apparently. She gave a firm handshake, and studies have shown that you can tell something about a person's character from his/her handshake.
2. Adheres to precedent. Fear not, Scalia-worshippers, Justice Kagan will follow precedent. Our first encounter with Dean Kagan was during her welcome address to the entering class of 2008. Nobody (or maybe it's just me) could forget her opening remarks: "You're great. Now, relax." She meant to assure everybody that the competition was over. That was also the first time I heard HLS described as the "New York of all law schools." She would use the same description several times throughout the year (that should be a clue for those who are wondering about how Justice Kagan will address the issue of using foreign laws in constitutional interpretation - New York as the capital of the world? 'Nuff said). The following year, I heard the same exact welcome speech, delivered with the same degree of conviction.
3. Listens well and gets results fast. Aside from her touted hiring spree and getting conservative and liberal professors together, she was also attentive to student concerns. I sat face to face with Dean Kagan in an HLS student government meeting during that year. After listening intently to "diverse problems" aired by the class representatives, she sifted through them and immediately said yes to those which can be accomplished immediately and promised to address those that can only be realized in the long term.
That she gave us an expensive ice skating rink to enjoy during the long, dark Cambridge winter is not relevant. But for her to give a genuine smile at a grumpy LLM at half past ten in the evening, on the way out of her office, is. For all the comic content of this post, I think these minuscule peeks say something positively truthful about her. Her critics should give her a fair chance to fill up some of those "blanks" during the confirmation hearings.

1 comment:

  1. Great post! These are reasons I don't think anyone else has considered.


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