By Randall L. Kennedy
Elena Kagan’s nomination for a place on the Supreme Court should be welcomed enthusiastically by those who are especially concerned with advancing the cause of racial justice in America. She is knowledgeable about the history of our nation’s racial problems and committed to a vision of racial inclusiveness that reflects the best of our national traditions. I say this on the basis of an acquaintanceship with Kagan that dates back almost twenty-five years.
She was in one of the first classes on race relations law that I taught at Harvard Law school. I recall vividly that she was an outstanding student — so much so that I recommended her with superlatives to my former boss Justice Thurgood Marshall. I thought that she would be an excellent clerk for him partly because she was so able analytically and also because her quiet but passionate commitment to equality before the law would fit in so well with “Mr. Civil Rights.” I was delighted when Justice Marshall offered her the clerkship and was unsurprised later when the Justice told me that her work for him had been exemplary.
Over time Kagan became a colleague at Harvard and then my Dean. In all of these roles she has comported herself with the same qualities that prompted me to recommend her so highly to Justice Marshall. There has been some grousing in the media about the paucity of racial minorities hired during Kagan’s Deanship. The criticisms leveled at her are unfair.