Law & Courts

High Court Nominee’s Hearing Underway

By Mark Walsh — June 28, 2010 3 min read
Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan meets with Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M. on Capitol Hill in Washington on May 26.

U.S. Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan lauded the teaching experience of her mother as the Senate Judiciary Committee opened her confirmation hearings Monday.

“I said when the president nominated me that the two people missing were my parents, and I feel that deeply again today,” Ms. Kagan said in her opening statement. “My parents lived the American dream. They grew up in immigrant communities; my mother didn’t speak a word of English until she went to school. But she became a legendary teacher and my father a valued lawyer. And they taught me and my two brothers, both high school teachers, that this is the greatest of all countries, because of the freedoms and opportunities it offers its people.”

Ms. Kagan’s mother, Gloria, taught at Hunter College High School in New York City. Her brothers, Irving and Marc, teach at Hunter College High and Bronx High School of Science, respectively.

Ms. Kagan, 50, was nominated May 10 by President Barack Obama to succeed Justice John Paul Stevens, who stepped down after 35 years on the court, which wrapped up its 2009-10 term Monday. She is a former White House aide to President Bill Clinton, a professor and dean of Harvard Law School, and U.S. solicitor general since last year, although she stepped aside from that position upon her nomination.

In her time in the White House counsel’s office from 1995 to 1997, and as deputy director of the Domestic Policy Council from 1997 to 1999, Ms. Kagan was intimately involved in Clinton administration K-12 education policies, including those involving education funding, testing, social promotion of pupils, bilingual education, single-sex schooling, and affirmative action. Some Republicans have criticized her lack of judicial experience and her handling of military recruiters while dean of Harvard Law School.

The first day of the hearings was one for opening statements, and little was said about education. A few Republicans were willing to raise critical concerns about Ms. Kagan and one of her mentors, Justice Thurgood Marshall, for whom she clerked on the Supreme Court in 1988-89.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said that based on “his self-described judicial philosophy and his performance on the bench, it is clear that Justice Marshall was a judicial activist as I have described that phrase earlier. Thurgood Marshall described his judicial philosophy as ‘do what you think is right and let the law catch up.’”

This prompted a defense of Justice Marshall from Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., who is also the Senate majority whip.

“America is a better nation because of the tenacity, judiciary and the integrity and values of Thurgood Marshall,” Sen. Durbin said, adding that Justice Marshall broke down “barriers of racial discrimination that haunted Americans for generations.”

Public Policy Record

Ms. Kagan’s public record has been amplified by hundreds of thousands of pages of documents related to her released in recent weeks by the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Ark.

For example, in a thorny legal case involving a school district’s defense of its decision to lay off a white teacher over a black colleague for diversity reasons, Ms. Kagan endorsed a 1997 legal memo that concluded the school district failed to justify its race-based decision. (“Papers Show Kagan in Loop on Clinton K-12 Policy,” School Law Blog, June 6, 2010.)

“I think this is exactly the right position—as a legal matter, as a policy matter, and as a political matter,” Ms. Kagan wrote in the margins of the legal memo in the case involving the Piscataway, N.J., school district. (“N.J. District Settles Case On Race Bias,” Nov. 26, 1997.)

Also in 1997, Ms. Kagan discouraged a White House education policy aide from urging President Clinton to call for a voluntary high school test to accompany a proposal for voluntary 4th and 8th grade tests. She told the aide in an e-mail that because the 4th- and 8th-grade testing plan was already slow to win support, the high school testing proposal “will make us look semi-oblivious.” (“Kagan E-Mails Show Resolve on K-12 Issues,” School Law Blog, June 21, 2010.)

The hearings are expected to take about a week, and Democratic leaders are hoping to have a floor vote by the Senate’s August recess.

In preparation for today’s kickoff, the Judiciary Committee altered its schedule to accommodate a rare instance when a confirmation hearing for a Supreme Court nominee would nearly overlap the end of the high court’s term. The justices convene at 10 a.m. to issue opinions, while the Senate panel is to begin at 12:30 p.m., across the street in the Senate’s Hart Office Building.

A version of this article appeared in the July 14, 2010 edition of Education Week

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
Interactive Learning Best Practices: Creative Ways Interactive Displays Engage Students
Students and teachers alike struggle in our newly hybrid world where learning takes place partly on-site and partly online. Focus, engagement, and motivation have become big concerns in this transition. In this webinar, we will
Content provided by Samsung
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Classroom Technology Webinar
Educator-Driven EdTech Design: Help Shape the Future of Classroom Technology
Join us for a collaborative workshop where you will get a live demo of GoGuardian Teacher, including seamless new integrations with Google Classroom, and participate in an interactive design exercise building a feature based on
Content provided by GoGuardian
School & District Management Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table With Education Week: What Did We Learn About Schooling Models This Year?
After a year of living with the pandemic, what schooling models might we turn to as we look ahead to improve the student learning experience? Could year-round schooling be one of them? What about online

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Law & Courts Student School Board Members Flex Their Civic Muscle in Supreme Court Free-Speech Case
Current and former student school board members add their growing voices to a potentially precedent-setting U.S. Supreme Court case.
7 min read
Image of the Supreme Court.
iStock/Getty
Law & Courts Justice Department Memo Could Stoke State-Federal Fights Over Transgender Students' Rights
Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in schools, a Justice Department memo says.
3 min read
Stephanie Marty demonstrates against a proposed ban on transgender girls and women from female sports leagues outside the South Dakota governor's mansion in Pierre, S.D. on March 11, 2021.
Stephanie Marty demonstrates against a proposed ban on allowing transgender girls and women to play in female sports leagues outside the South Dakota governor's mansion in Pierre, S.D.
Stephen Groves/AP
Law & Courts Diverse Array of Groups Back Student in Supreme Court Case on Off-Campus Speech
John and Mary Beth Tinker, central to the landmark speech case that bears their name, argue that even offensive speech merits protection.
5 min read
In this photo taken Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013, Mary Beth Tinker, 61, shows an old photograph of her with her brother John Tinker to the Associated Press during an interview in Washington. Tinker was just 13 when she spoke out against the Vietnam War by wearing a black armband to her Iowa school in 1965. When the school suspended her, she took her free speech case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and won. Her message: Students should take action on issues important to them. "It's better for our whole society when kids have a voice," she says.
In this 2013 photo, Mary Beth Tinker shows a 1968 Associated Press photograph of her with her brother John Tinker displaying the armbands they had worn in school to protest the Vietnam War. (The peace symbols were added after the school protest). The Tinkers have filed a brief in the U.S. Supreme Court supporting a Pennsylvania student who was disciplined for an offensive message on Snapchat.
Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP
Law & Courts Supreme Court Sympathetic to College Athletes' Challenge to NCAA Rules on Education Aid
The justices weighed a case about the definition of amateurism in college athletics that may trickle down to high school and youth sports.
6 min read
BRIC ARCHIVE
iStock/Getty