Thursday, August 5, 2010

Justice Elena Kagan



Not surprisingly, Elena Kagan has been confirmed to be the 112th Justice of the Supreme Court.  This is a good opportunity to 'take inventory'.  We start with short bios of each of the current justices:

John Roberts, Chief Justice:  received a J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1979.  From 1979 until 1981 he clerked for a series of judges at various levels;  in 1981 he moved over to the DOJ, then the White House Counsel's office until 1986, when he practiced law in DC for three years.  In 1989 he went back to the DOJ until 1993, and then was in private practice until 2003 when he was appointed to the Court of Appeals for DC.  In 2005, G.W.Bush nominated him as Chief Justice, and he took his seat September 29, 2005.

Antonin Scalia:  received his LL.B. from Harvard Law School around 1960 and taught there until 1961.  He was in private practice in Cleveland, Ohio from 1961–1967, and taught law at U Virginia from 1967–1971.  He served the federal government in various law-related positions from 1971–1977.  He taught law at U Chicago from 1977–1982 and served on the American Bar Association 1981–1983.  He was appointed Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 1982.  President Reagan nominated him as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, and he took his seat September 26, 1986.

Anthony M. Kennedy:  received his LL.B. from Harvard Law School probably around 1960.  He was in private practice in California from 1961–1975.  In 1975, he was appointed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.  From 1965 to 1988, he was also a Professor of Constitutional Law at the McGeorge School of Law, University of the Pacific.  President Reagan nominated him as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, and he took his seat February 18, 1988.

Clarence Thomas:  received a J.D. from Yale Law School in 1974.  He was admitted to law practice in Missouri in 1974, and served as an Assistant Attorney General of Missouri from 1974–1977, an attorney with the Monsanto Company from 1977–1979, and Legislative Assistant to Senator John Danforth from 1979–1981.  From 1981–1982, he served as Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Education, and as Chairman of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission from 1982–1990.  He became a Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 1990.  President Bush nominated him as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, and he took his seat October 23, 1991.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg:  received her LL.B. from Columbia Law School probably around 1959.  She served as a law clerk from 1959–1961.  From 1961–1963, she held administrative positions at Columbia U., taught law at Rutgers from 1963–1972, and at Columbia from 1972–1980.  She was appointed a Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 1980.  President Clinton nominated her as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, and she took her seat August 10, 1993.

Stephen G. Breyer:  received his LL.B. from Harvard Law School probably around 1964.  He served as a law clerk during the 1964 Term, as a Special Assistant to the Assistant U.S. Attorney General for Antitrust, 1965–1967, Harvard Law School, 1967–1994.  During his tenure at Harvard, he was also Assistant Special Prosecutor of the Watergate Special Prosecution Force, 1973, Special Counsel ofthe U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, 1974–1975, and Chief Counsel of the committee, 1979–1980.  From 1980–1990, he served as a Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, and as its Chief Judge, 1990–1994.  He also served as a member of the United States Sentencing Commission, 1985–1989.  President Clinton nominated him as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, and he took his seat August 3, 1994.

Samuel Anthony Alito, Jr.:  his official SCOTUS biography does not give any information about his credentials, not that this should disqualify him, but his career seems to start around 1976 so it's logical to suppose his law degree also dates from 1976.  He served as a law clerk of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit from 1976–1977.  He was Assistant U.S. Attorney, District of New Jersey, 1977–1981, Assistant to the Solicitor General, U.S. Department of Justice, 1981–1985, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice, 1985–1987, and U.S. Attorney, District of New Jersey, 1987–1990.  He was appointed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in 1990.  President George W. Bush nominated him as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, and he took his seat January 31, 2006.

Sonia Sotomayor:  earned a J.D. from Yale Law School in 1979 and served as an editor of the Yale Law Journal.  She served as Assistant District Attorney in the New York County District Attorney's Office from 1979–1984.  She then litigated international commercial matters in New York City at Pavia & Harcourt, where she served as an associate and then partner from 1984–1992.  In 1991, President George H.W. Bush nominated her to the U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, and she served in that role from 1992–1998.  She served as a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit from 1998–2009.  President Barack Obama nominated her as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court on May 26, 2009, and she assumed this role August 8, 2009.

There is not yet an official bio for Elena Kagan, but we do know something about her career so far, and it's fair to speculate that her bio, when it's posted, will look a lot like what's already here.


Assuming you had the stamina to wade through all of this, it's time to test you on your comprehension.  The eight justices profiled here have careers which total 221 years of experience -- prior to their becoming Supreme Court Justices.  Lots of it is in 'academia' (about 76 years worth, much of it teaching), and some of it counts as 'private practice' (about 43 years) and some of that overlaps because these guys and gals are Hermione Granger-ish over-achievers and often held more than one job.  The bulk of their experience, however, is time spent working at government jobs:  mostly judgeships, with the occasional AG, AAG, DA, or ADA position thrown in;  almost all of them were also 'law clerks' for prominent judges.

Which job in the 'justice system' do none of them have any experience with?

Defense attorney.

Every one of these Justices of the United States Supreme Court have prosecuted persons as part of their job as an [Assistant] Attorney for the Whatever of Wheresoever, but none of them have ever defended a person against a criminal charge.

Not one.

Ever.

And Elena Kagan won't break the mold.

Isn't it about time we had someone on the Supreme Court who has some experience defending us?