Commentary Magazine


Contentions

RE: The Supreme Court Isn’t the Harvard Law School Faculty

Regarding the difference between faculty schmoozing and Supreme Court persuasion, it’s worthwhile to examine what it is that Elena Kagan did at Harvard. This report gives us a peek, suggesting that her accomplishments have been “overstated”:

Much of the work to defuse the bitter atmosphere, which included ideologically driven standoffs over whom to hire, took place under Ms. Kagan’s predecessor, Robert Clark, dean for 14 years. He calmed tensions and expanded the faculty. …

She was helped by flush times at Harvard. She hired 43 faculty members during her tenure and boosted the total number of full-time professors from 81 to 104, a growth spurt partly enabled by a thriving endowment. She also benefited from a record-setting $476.5 million fund-raising drive that began under Mr. Clark, which she brought to a successful conclusion. More money makes hiring easier, because one appointment isn’t seen as a trade-off for another.

Well, she did some things on her own:

[Charles Fried] also credits her with arranging a faculty lounge so it offered free lunch and large tables, where faculty could sit and get to know one another. “It was an absolute stroke of genius,” Mr. Fried said.

Genius? I think most employers have figured out that free food usually is a winner with employees. But maybe Justice Kennedy can be swayed by sandwiches and soda. And then there are these contributions:

Ms. Kagan is credited with improving student life through upgrades to the physical campus, such as a revamped student center, an upgraded gym and an ice-skating rink that doubled as a volleyball court. And she offered small things, like free coffee outside classrooms and free tampons in the women’s restrooms.

OK, OK, we get the point. This is all very commendable for a dean but utterly irrelevant to the job of being a Supreme Court justice. More revealing will be what she accomplished as solicitor general, and we should begin to focus on that — the number and quality of her arguments. Then we might learn whether she is really up for the job.