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What Kagan Will Bring To The Court

Publication Date: 
May 10, 2010
The New York Times

Professor Kathleen Sullivan is mentioned in this New York Times article on Elena Kagan's nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court:

President Obama, in introducing Solicitor General Elena Kagan as his nominee to succeed Justice John Paul Stevens on the Supreme Court, called her “one of the nation’s foremost legal minds.” Ms. Kagan was a White House official in the Clinton administration and has had a long academic career, most recently as dean of Harvard Law School. But she has never been a judge, an issue that will certainly be raised in her confirmation hearings.

Given her experiences, what kind of difference is she likely to make on the court if confirmed?


Kathleen M. Sullivan is a partner at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan in New York and was dean of Stanford Law School.

Elena Kagan will be a superb justice, bringing to the court the knowledge of all three branches of government and the instincts for consensus and compromise that have made her so successful in her legal career. Her early work as a business litigator and recent service as Solicitor General allow her to speak the same language and employ the same exacting craft as the lawyers’ lawyers on the Court like Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Alito and Sotomayor.

Her articles on free speech showed a strong sense of the importance of civil liberties as a bulwark against ideological orthodoxy — a perspective that will give her ready camaraderie with free speech devotees on the court like Justices Scalia, Kennedy and Thomas.

Her work on Capitol Hill and in the White House Counsel’s office has given her knowledge of the structure of the federal government and a keen sense that law is a pragmatic enterprise, a perspective that will give her great affinity with Justice Breyer, whose service as counsel in the Senate helped shape his own legal pragmatism.

And her role as a trailblazer for women as the first woman to be appointed dean of Harvard Law School and the first female Solicitor General will give her a deep kinship with Justice Ginsburg, whose own trailblazing for women helped make possible the opportunities women have in the legal profession today. Few candidates could be so well prepared to forge alliances across the spectrum of the Court.