Elena Kagan’s First Year on Supreme Court Shows Judge With Chutzpah

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Source: Harvard Crimson, 8-7-11

Elena KaganpictureCrimson file photo

Kagan, seen during a champagne reception celebrating her appointment as HLS Dean in this April 2003 file photo, ascended to the position of dean only two years after receiving tenure.

It happens—or will happen—to all of us. And during her first year on the U.S. Supreme Court, it happened to Associate Justice Elena Kagan.

She got jury duty.

Like any Washington D.C. resident, she reported to the Moultrie Courthouse—a stocky, busy, fluorescent-lit federal building where the constant traffic has left a layer of grime on its facade. Kagan went to the third floor, stood in line at the jurors’ office, and proceeded to wait in the the jury room—a vast space with paintings of African tribal women on the walls and with windows that look down on a Cosi and an Au Bon Pan. Amicably chatting with the few people who recognized her, Kagan pulled out documents and began working away, making notes in the margin of a legal brief.

The image of Kagan, dutifully showing up for court with the rest of the city’s residents, is in one way representative of her brief tenure on the court. During that time, Kagan has made a point of making her opinions more accessible to the public, writing in a colloquial, approachable style that bears surprising resemblance to a fellow justice, Antonin G. Scalia.

Scalia has come to be indisputably recognized as the court’s best writer and as someone who forcefully and unabashedly expresses the hopes and ideals of conservative jurisprudence. And in two dissents this year it appears Kagan may be emerging as a similar figure for the left.

One year ago Saturday, Kagan was sworn in as an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. The early verdict on her first year indicates that Kagan is not only shaping up as the liberal bloc’s most eloquent voice but also as a consensus builder in the style of Chief Justice John G. Roberts ’67 who has proven to be highly influential in building majority coalitions.

Kagan’s first year—during which she recused herself from nearly as many cases as she judged—offers only a premature indication of her future on the court but does give a glimpse of a feisty jurist who seems to be quickly finding her voice as a justice….READ MORE

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