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Thurgood Marshall Jr. on Kagan: 'She's Her Own Person' and 'Scary Smart'

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Thurgood Marshall Jr. is a Washington lawyer and the son of the late Justice Thurgood Mashall, the first African-American member of the U.S. Supreme Court. I spoke to the younger Marshall following the first day of Senate confirmation hearings for Elena Kagan to join the high court.

Marshall attended the hearings as a longtime friend and former colleague of Kagan's. Not only does he know her from her days as a Supreme Court law clerk for his father, Marshall also worked as Cabinet secretary to President Bill Clinton when Kagan worked in the White House counsel's office.

During Monday's hearing, senators referenced Justice Marshall several times, with Republican senators repeatedly calling him a liberal activist and twice saying he was "out of the mainstream."

I asked Marshall about the hearing and about the woman who could become the Court's ninth justice.

How did you get to know Ms. Kagan?

TM: My parents were close to the law clerks and, being a lawyer myself and being a clerk-wannabe, I did spend quite a bit of time with most, if not all, of the law clerks, particularly Elena. But we did work together at the White House as well.

What kind of interaction did you have with her when she was a clerk?

TM: I would see her when I was visiting (the Supreme Court) chambers or when my parents would have events for the clerks and at clerk reunions.

What was your impression of her back then?

TM: Back then, at family visits, she was as warm and as thoughtful as I think her (opening) statement reflected. And the chance to work with her later during the Clinton Administration gave me a chance to see she is every bit as scary smart as all the clerks are.

Your father's name has come up several times during this hearing, and Republicans have called him an "activist judge," which may be the first time people have heard him described that way. What was your reaction to that?

TM: It's been interesting to hear how often his name came up today and there were a lot of nice things said. I think the judicial activism comments struck me as something that is in the eye of the beholder. There are certainly a number of recent decisions where some would argue that there was conservative activism in play. So there are two sides to that coin.

These hearings are designed for senators and the American public to get to know Ms. Kagan better. What do you hope will come out of these hearings that you already know about her?

TM: The public has hopefully been able to infer over the last couple of months that in addition to being very skilled legally, she's very principled and has a very strong character. But given the reference to her work with my father and others, I think people are about to get a chance to learn that she's very much her own person, too, and can't be put in those kinds of boxes.

What does that mean?

TM: She's somebody who can't be labeled based on who she's work with or who she's worked for. She's very much her own person.

Do you think your dad would have had any advice for her going into this week?

TM: I think she's getting enough great advice already.

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Daniel Cromwell

I find the determinations that Kagan is "so unqualified" interesting in light of Palin run for the vice presidency.

July 01 2010 at 4:53 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

Can we all agree that the Supreme Court is more right wing than the Democratic party? If we can agree on that then we can possibly have a respectable dialouge here.

June 29 2010 at 6:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

My question is why would Elana Kagan have been nominated in the first place? There were other liberals with far more experience than she has. I expected a liberal for a liberal but someone so unqualified???

I also want to know why the Republican's are on board with this so eagerly?

She can be as scary smart as anyone wants her to be, but I think it's scary that she is going to sit in the Supreme Court.

June 29 2010 at 6:35 PM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply

Scary smart is a personal observation, and totally dependent on your own level of intellect.

June 29 2010 at 1:53 PM Report abuse +9 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to ettu's comment

So you must view her as Oh My God scary smart.

June 29 2010 at 3:22 PM Report abuse -9 rate up rate down Reply

It is probably time for conservatives to get off the "judicial activism" theme. You are in favor of judicial activists so long as their politics are the same as yours. How do you decide a gun control case and completely ignore the words "well-regulated"? Easy. You let your politics control your reasoning. How do you breezily equate a corporation with a human being? When corporations send their childre into war - then they are on equal constitutional footing with me--but Conservatives can coast past those types of distinctions. But let a liberal gets anywhere near a position of power--then it is time to bring out the handcuffs and bind them to some phony judicial philosophy. Your five judges are activists. They twist the Constitution right into the shape they wish --it is what constitutional law is.

Get me another liberal or two on the bench and lets have this pendulum make another swing.

June 29 2010 at 1:42 PM Report abuse -9 rate up rate down Reply

Mr. Marshall has the advantage of knowing Ms. Kagan. We will only get to know her through her decisions she will make on the bench. I'm a conservative and see things through a different glass then a liberal. I don't believe that the Court primarily exists to look out for the “despised and disadvantaged", as Ms. Kagan and President Obama seems to think it does. I totally believe the judiciary should not favor any one particular group, but to secure justice equally for all through impartial application of the Constitution and laws.

All the personal attributes Mr. Marshall extolls about Ms. Kagan is great and I'm glad she possess all of them. We should all strive to such heights, but she has flaws and I would hope that the Senators question her vigorously and throughly so we know what we're getting. This is not just a job, it is a life time tenure and she is very young, inexperienced, has liberal views and has been an activist for certain causes, such as gun control, limitations on free speech and her views on the military and that, to me, is more "scary" than being "scary smart".

June 29 2010 at 11:51 AM Report abuse +12 rate up rate down Reply

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