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

4 years ago
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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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