The Four Justices: Justice Elena Kagan Interview – National Portrait Gallery


(Music) I knew that I had things to learn
because I had never been a judge before but there are lots of different ways of
preparing for this job. Justice Elena Kagan is the youngest
justice on the court and two of her secrets for success are
relationship building and reaching across the aisle. She was the first female dean of the
Harvard Law School and the first woman selected as Solicitor General representing the Obama administration
before the same bench she would soon join. -Was it intimidating to start judging
here at the Supreme Court? -There always has to be a
first time and when it started (inaudible) , my first
argument I was a little bit nervous about it I started not only at the top in terms
of the court starting at the Supreme Court I never argued before any appellate court before but I also started on it in a
particularly important case where there was a lot of press attention, a lot of public
attention generally and that was the Citizens United case so it was a bit nerve-wracking. The Citizens United case removed restrictions on corporate spending in
elections on the grounds of free speech under the protection of the First
Amendment. Kagan’s argument lost but she gained confidence as she began
to speak. The butterflies were definitely going,
but when I stood up to speak, you know
words started coming out of my mouth and Justice Scalia actually did me a favor,
he asked me a question straight away within the first 15
seconds and once the questions started rolling you know you have to answer them and you know pretty soon in I thought
okay this is going okay Justice Scalia has since become justice
Kagan’s hunting buddy as Justice Kagan asked him to help her
fulfill a confirmation pledge to try the sport in an effort to appease conservatives
about her thoughts on the second amendment. -What is it like to go hunting for large
game with Justice Antonin Scalia and why do you do it? -Well it’s fun, mostly we bird shoot actually, although
we once went to Wyoming for three days and we went with a deer and an antelope license and we shot a couple of deer. Kagan and
Scalia don’t see eye to eye on many court issues, but as fellow hunters, there’s
nobody I’d rather do that with he’s interesting, he’s funny, he’s charming he has a great heart and a
great spirit, I think. Do you think that helps build
consensus? I think that to the extent that people are like that you know, it’s not going to be in every
case once again and Justice Scalia has been known to disagree sharply in strenuously
with people as have I, but to the extent that you really like your colleagues around the table, I think that that can help in lots of
different ways and lots of different cases. At Harvard University Law School, where
Kagan still teaches every September before the court term begins, Kagan is credited with bringing factions
together and she applauds Chief Justice John
Roberts’ efforts to build unity on the court. There have been times when you look back in Supreme Court history where there were real dislikes, I mean
almost pathological hatreds and we so don’t come anywhere close to
that I think we all are genuinely admire each other and genuinely like
each other maybe it’s what surprised me most when I got on the court. Kagan first worked on the court more
than two decades ago as a clerk to then Justice Thurgood
Marshall and he was a a great judge, but he was
also a great lawyer I mean, I think he was the greatest
lawyer of the 20th century. What I was always struck by when I talk with him, was how he could to take any case and within a pretty short period of time, he could just see
to the heart of the case. I tried to do it myself when I started
practicing law and I still think about it as a judge
it’s like well what’s the really central issue in
this case, what’s the issue where once you see the answer to that,
everything else falls into place. Most of Kagan’s legal career has been as
an educator. She is the daughter of a teacher and
early on, learned the way to the top. Well my mother taught me to work hard in
my life, yeah I’m a hard worker and I’ve worked hard throughout my
life I have worked hard when I was a student I have worked hard when I was a young lawyer and I work hard now. It’s a lifestyle she built on
at Princeton, Oxford and Harvard Universities. and then as a teacher at the University of Chicago Law School and as dean of the
Harvard Law School, she met President Obama at the
University of Chicago, a fellow teacher who would later make her
part of his administration and subsequently, nominate her to the bench. I think it’s a
good thing in general to see if you can forge
consensus in every case without giving up on
strong commitments and convictions about how a case should come out and I
would like to think that I’m helpful in that task.

10 comments

  1. I don’t agree with her politics at all, but I have lots of respect for Justice Kagan. She is the smartest leftist judge. Smarter than the morons Sotomayor and Breyer.

  2. Her and her fellow lib judges with their idea of using the court to make law is crumbling with Kavanaugh on the court. ie abortion. It's all about the bloody practice of butchering babies. The womb is the issue. God help us

  3. So Scalia wanted her on the Court simply because they were hunting buddies? That’s weird, but I’m glad he recommended her.

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