A note on Elena Kagan

President Obama will reportedly announce the appointment of Solicitor General Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court today. I don’t know much about Kagan, but the little I do know raises a question in my mind about what kind of justice she will be.
As Dean of Harvard Law School, Kagan had to deal with the issue of compliance with the Solomon Amendment. Under the Solomon Amendment, universities receiving federal funding are required to allow the armed services to recruit on campus like other employers. It is a law that shouldn’t be necessary.
Harvard Law School was one of many prominent law schools that chose to violate the Solomon Amendment, citing the military’s don’t ask/don’t tell policy. The don’t ask/don’t tell policy is not just a whim of the armed forces. It is also the law of the land, but don’t tell law school deans about it. They have to worry about matters closer to home, like their own schools’ so-called nondiscrimination policies against hosting recruiters for employers that don’t toe the line on homosexual rights.
When the Department of Defense sent Harvard a notice that it intended to enforce the Solomon Amendment, Kagan announced that she would adhere to what I call the Yale Doctrine, in honor of the statement made by then-Yale Law Dean Anthony Kronman at the time:

We would never put at risk the overwhelmingly large financial interests of the University in federal funding. We have a point of principle to defend, but we will not defend this–at the expense of programs vital to the University and the world at large.

Dean Kronman paid a backhanded tribute to the “money talks” impetus behind the Solomon Amendment. Thus the Yale Doctrine: We take your money for the good of the world.
But neither Yale nor Harvard let it go at that. They both supported FAIR v Rumsfeld, the lawsuit opposing the Solomon Amendment.
Yale and others argued that the Solomon Amendment was unconstitutional. I thought that the legal merits of the FAIR lawsuit rivaled those of obesity lawsuits brought by overweight consumers against fast food outlets. A divided panel of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals held in favor of the plaintiffs, however, finding it likely that the Solomon Amendment unconstitutionally infringed the law school’s First Amendment rights.
When the Supreme Court accepted the Department of Defense’s appeal from the Third Circuit decision, Kagan got on board. She was one of 40 Harvard Law School professors who signed a friend-of-the-court brief written by Walter Dellinger supporting the FAIR plaintiffs.
In the brief Dellinger argued that the Solomon Amendment applied only to schools that specifically prohibited military access on campus, not to schools’ whose policies simply had the (allegedly) incidental effect of doing so. Dellinger distinguished the law schools’ contemporary anti-discrimination policies from Vietnam-era academic anti-military policies.
Dellinger’s argument based on the language of the Solomon Amendment was, to say the least, strained, and the Supreme Court gave it the back of its hand in the Court’s 8-0 opinion upholding the Solomon Amendment. Even Justice Stevens rejected it.
Here we have Kagan herself, as Dean of the Harvard Law School, signing off on a brief making an argument so far out that not a single member of the Supreme Court found it worthy of adherence. This would seem to provide some evidence for the proposition that Kagan’s views lie somewhere outside the mainstream of Supreme Court jurisprudence.
Perhaps the institutional imperatives to which she gave voice as dean of the Harvard Law School overrode her common sense. For other reasons, Kagan has noted she didn’t write the brief; she merely signed it.
Kagan’s side decisively lost the FAIR case in the Supreme Court. I wrote while the case was pending in the Supreme Court that some lawsuits deserve a fate worse than failure. While decent military recruiters suffered the rudeness of their purported betters at Yale Law School and elsewhere in silence, the armed services of the United States were (and are) actively defending the freedom of those schools from peril. The rank ingratitude of those who should know better is a disgrace that deserves to be widely recognized as such.
UPDATE: Bill Kristol comments: “Do ask, don’t confirm.”

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