Elena Kagan’s Papers Shed Light on Nominee's Personality

May 20, 2010 - 5:21 AM
The White House has submitted reams of files on Kagan's background and record to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Washington (AP) - Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan counted the days like a nervous student anticipating a tough oral exam before she made her first appearance last year at the court she's now seeking to join.
 
"Four weeks from Wednesday -- not that I'm counting -- will be my first argument as solicitor general and also my first argument at the Supreme Court," she told summer interns in Washington with a laugh.
 
"I come into this job not having a whole lot of experience myself in oral arguments," the then-solicitor general told the students in a video of her appearance the White House submitted this week, along with reams of files on her background and record, to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
 
Kagan was returning to Capitol Hill on Thursday for more meetings with Republicans and Democrats who will vote on her nomination.
 
Her lack of courtroom experience has been a focus of criticism for Republicans skeptical about Kagan's nomination for the nation's highest court, and she almost certainly will have to address the issue at confirmation hearings set to begin June 28.
 
But for now, the documents are offering some glimmers of Kagan's personality and style. The papers demonstrate Kagan's sense of humor, her view of the importance and limits of the law, her take on the role of the Supreme Court in American life, and the major issues and sometimes-mundane tasks she handled during a career in legal circles, academia and a Democratic White House.
 
In 2007, Kagan opined that the law sometimes allows things that are "just plain dumb."
 
"Don't think that law is everything," she told a group of West Point cadets in a speech, reflecting on lessons she took away from her time serving as a domestic policy adviser to former President Bill Clinton.
 
"Even when the lawyers clear something, it may not be the right thing to do. It may be unethical, even if it's not illegal," she said. "Or it may just be plain dumb."
 
In the same talk, Kagan, who stepped aside Monday from her job as solicitor general, offered a hint of how she might approach her job as a justice. She said she learned as a Clinton aide, "When in doubt and when possible, ask" and seek "a real, not foreordained, answer."