Supreme Court Nominations

Kagan’s Dealings with Harvard Prez Show ‘Intense Ambition and Deft Political Skills'


When Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan became a visiting professor at Harvard Law School in 1999, she quickly warmed to the job, earning high marks from students for her wit and energy.

Less than four years later, she was offered the deanship. The New York Times reports on Kagan’s quick ascent, attributing her rise to “relentless networking and a remarkable ability to navigate the treacherous waters of Harvard’s internal politics.”

Kagan was a close ally of the man who offered her the job, Harvard President Lawrence Summers, now President Obama’s top economic adviser, the Times says. According to the newspaper, Kagan’s dealings with Summers “reveal a woman of intense ambition and deft political skills.”

When Summers revived a plan to move the law school, Kagan, then a professor, was named to head a study committee. She hired a consultant that evaluated the idea and implied that the school of biomedical sciences was a better candidate for the move. The study, based on rational arguments rather than emotion, led Summers to table the idea of moving the law school.

Although she was an ally, Kagan “kept her distance” when Summers made controversial comments about innate differences possibly explaining why fewer women succeed in science, the Times says. She also made no secret about her desire to succeed Summers in the job.

One professor, Charles Ogletree Jr., told the Times that Kagan was a strategic and deliberative thinker who did her homework. And she worked hard. “She was willing to work seven days a week, it wasn’t just Monday through Friday, 10 to 5, it was whenever people were available—a baseball game, a student reception, a breakfast, a lunch, a coffee,” he said.

Additional Kagan coverage:

Associated Press: “As Marshall Clerk, Kagan Was Wary of Conservatives”

New York Times Op-Ed by John Yoo: “An Executive Without Much Privilege”

Washington Post: “Senators will have less background on Kagan to help make Supreme Court decision”

Main Justice: “How Holder (Accidentally) Helped Kagan to the Supreme Court”

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