Your Take: Why Elena Kagan is a Good Choice for the Supreme Court
Former Harvard Law colleague Charles Ogletree Jr. offers a vigorous defense of the nominee.
Additionally, she was quite instrumental in creating a generation of diverse practicing lawyers who would accept clinical appointments at Harvard Law School. Among them were Ron Sullivan, who followed my career at Harvard and worked as the director of the Public Defender Service, accepted an appointment at Yale Law School where he received a teaching award, and now has replaced me as the director of the Criminal Justice Institute, a program I started at Harvard Law School during the deanship of Robert Clark. Dean Kagan also appointed Brian Price, an African American, who is the director of Harvard's transactional law clinic, and Ashish Nanda, a South Asian professor who runs Harvard Law School's executive education program.
Dean Kagan recruited and pushed for the appointment of Annette Gordon-Reed as a member of the faculty, and I am happy to report that, just last week, Professor Gordon-Reed accepted the tenured offer to join the Harvard Law School faculty.
Beyond the issue of diversity of faculty, I can personally attest to Dean Kagan's support of diversity in the student body. The numbers that she has been responsible for are just outstanding. Since Elena Kagan became dean, the number of African American students admitted, particularly black males (given the national decline in African American males in colleges and universities), is simply astonishing. From 2003 until she ended her deanship in 2009, the number of African American students has been at an all time high. Her first year, 10% of the students were African American and the total minority student body was 29%. That percentage has increased in each category over the years. As a result, 31% of the entering class at Harvard Law School over the last 9 years is a record and a sign of her commitment.
But, it is the quiet things that are not always noted in these numbers. For the last decade, an annual "Welcome to Harvard Law School" event is held in early September with African American students. In her own understated and dignified way, Dean Kagan has always welcomed the new students and would spend time with each of them, hearing their stories and expressing her excitement that they were joining Harvard Law School. The number of African Americans considering legal careers continues to grow, and that is in many ways a result of the encouragement and support Dean Kagan has provided.
Last year when Dean Kagan was a candidate for Solicitor General, John Payton, the Director-Counsel and President of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund supporter her nomination. He explained the role that she had played historically and why she would be an important contribution to the Obama administration as Solicitor General. The praise of John Payton is hard to match, and reinforces the considerable commitment that Dean Kagan has exhibited over the years and why she would continue to enforce the principles and goals that are important to her country that should be free of racism and discrimination.
President Obama has repeatedly stated his interest in nominating a Justice who is intellectually gifted, independent in her thinking, able to engage in critical discussions with others, and whose experience will prepare her to become an immediately engaging and productive member of the Supreme Court. In her nearly quarter century of time spent as a lawyer in a variety of public and private capacities, Elena Kagan has demonstrated convincingly, in my opinion, that she is well-suited for this honor.
Understanding and appreciating the full depth and breadth of her record is important in moving forward, and I hope that there will be little, if any, doubt that Elena Kagan has been supportive of, committed to, and a devotee of issues of diversity and equal opportunity for all Americans.
Charles J. Ogletree, Jr. is the Jesse Climenko Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and the founding and executive director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice.