U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan (Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/ NLJ)
Now that she has experienced quail and other small game hunting, as well as where the deer and the antelope play, where will avid hunter Justice Antonin Scalia take his student, Justice Elena Kagan?
Turkey shooting next year, “the best kind of hunting,” he has told Kagan.
The Supreme Court’s junior justice revealed her new target during a “conversation” with Dean William Treanor of Georgetown University Law Center as the first speaker in the Dean’s Lecture to the Graduating Class. (C-SPAN posted video here.)
Although she was not able to shoot an antelope, Kagan said, she did bring down a deer. But Scalia told her it was the “wrong kind of deer.” He said she could have shot that deer in his backyard.
The hunting anecdotes came as Treanor asked Kagan about the importance of collegiality and of urging people to work together. Treanor also asked about whether Kagan had mentors during her career. She pointed to Justice Thurgood Marshall and former federal appellate judge Abner Mikva, for whom she clerked.
Her favorite justices, Kagan said when pressed, are Marshall, whose picture is on her wall in her chambers, and Justice Louis Brandeis. “I’m a huge Justice Brandeis fan,” she said, explaining, “I think he was the greatest writer ever to serve on the Supreme Court and I think he was a deeply wise human being.”
Kagan covered topics that included her use of her clerks, how she prepared for her role on the court and the importance of oral arguments.
“Sometimes [oral argument] decides a case; sometimes it doesn’t,” she said. “Sometimes I will go back and say, ‘I was thinking X and now I’m thinking Y because it makes a lot more sense. But for most people, most of the time, the real work of thinking through a case is when you read the briefs.”
The court currently has many high quality advocates, Kagan said, each with their own different styles. She recounted how she spent several hours in an airport and on a plane with two of the best—now Judge Sri Srinivasan of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and Paul Clement of Bancroft—when the subject of argument styles came up.
Clement, she recalled, said there are two styles: Lawyers who heat up a room and those who calm it down. Clement, who brings high energy to the podium, “heats up” the courtroom, Kagan said, while Srinivasan “cools it down” with his calm manner.
Her final piece of advice to graduating law students was to be open to opportunities.
“I think for many, many decades, one of the great things about a lawyer’s career is you can move from one thing to another and lots of opportunities are going to present to you,” she said. “In thinking about that, just reflect on what fills you with a sense of meaning and purpose and value. I think lawyers who are happy are lawyers who find ways to accomplish something for people outside of themselves. That’s pretty much the most important thing in making people happy to go to work each day.”
Contact Marcia Coyle at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @MarciaCoyle.