If you’ve tuned in to Elena Kagan’s Senate confirmation hearings, you may have found it odd that the GOP has tried to radicalize Kagan through her work and affinity for Thurgood Marshall. But before the GOP mind-bogglingly attempted to align Kagan’s judicial philosophy with one of the most iconic figures in civil rights’ history, perhaps they should have paid attention to which civil rights groups are actually in the Kagan corner. Because not too many of them are eager to back her nomination whole-heartedly.
In a statement today, the National Bar Association deemed Kagan “qualified” to serve as a Supreme Court justice but withheld an endorsement “due to the insufficient information to ensure that Ms. Kagan’s views are consistent with the core mission of the organization.” Said NBA President Mavins Thompson: “Solicitor General Kagan has not yet established a demonstrated track record of vigorously applying the law to uphold civil rights and personal freedoms.”
Meanwhile, in a Washington Post article, Barabara R. Arnwine, executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said “There isn’t a judicial record to review, indicating her views on critical civil rights matters.”
The NAACP and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and Eduction Fund indicated their support for Kagan’s nomination in a detailed report on Kagan’s record, citing her “professional credentials” and “independence of mind.” But they also relayed their “concerns” for the nominee.
While serving in the Clinton administration, Kagan worked on President Clinton’s Initiative on Race, a yearlong project to assess the state of race relations in the United States. Of her work on the initiative, the NAACP report states that “while her work on civil rights issues during this period is interesting, there is a question concerning what it reveals about her own views on the myriad problems in achieving justice for all Americans.”
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund report also paid particular attention to Kagan’s teaching appointments when she was dean at Harvard University Law School. It called her hiring record “deeply disappointing”: Of the 32 tenured and tenure track appointments made, “Twenty-five were white men, six were white women and one was an Asian-American woman.” Kagan did hire two women, two African-American males and one Indian male, but they were not in tenure track jobs. Although Kagan failed to diversify the faculty at Harvard Law, she did manage to attract a diverse student body, the report states.
Today, the Congressional Black Congress submitted questions to Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy to be relayed to Kagan during the review, to address her views on affirmative action, sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine, racial profiling, and other issues of importance to African Americans. Thus far, none of these questions have come up. Indeed, for all the talk about Marshall’s judicial philosophy, no senator has shown interest in Kagan’s views on the racial justice and economic equality concerns that so defined Marshall’s career.
For clarity on Kagan’s views on issues of race, we may just have to hope for the best.
Reprinted with permission of ColorLines magazine, www.colorlines.com.