The NAACP unanimously endorsed Solicitor General Elena Kagan’s nomination to the Supreme Court over the weekend, a move that could help blunt criticism by some within the Black community who’ve questioned her commitment to civil rights and hiring diversity.
The nation’s oldest civil right organization made the endorsement at its quarterly meeting in Florida Saturday and left no doubt where it stands on President Barack Obama’s choice to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.
“Elena Kagan has demonstrated a commitment to civil rights and equal justice under the law throughout her career,” Benjamin Jealous, NAACP president and CEO, said in a statement. “Kagan drew her inspiration from NAACP former counsel and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, who she considers a hero and mentor.”
Jealous said that Kagan, during her time in President Bill Clinton’s White House, worked on issues such as strengthening hate crimes legislation and civil rights enforcement.
“Elena Kagan has a track record of bringing people together,” Jealous said.
“She is skilled at forging legal consensus on contentious issues,” NAACP Chair Roslyn Brock said. “We believe Elena Kagan has the ability to use her fine legal mind, her commitment to diversity and her ability to build bridges to effectively advocate in the Supreme Court for the civil rights and democracy enshrined in our Constitution.”
Kagan’s nomination wasn’t initially greeted warmly by some Black organizations, activists and academics. Several were hoping that Obama would follow up on his historic nomination of Sonia Sotomayor, the Supreme Court’s first Hispanic member, and pick a Black woman to the court. Federal appellate Judge Ann Claire Williams and former Georgia Supreme Court chief justice Leah Ward Sears were reportedly under consideration by Obama.
The National Coalition on Black Civic Participation’s Black Women’s Roundtable didn’t hide its feelings about Kagan’s nomination: “Needless to say, we are disconcerted by the perceived lack of real consideration of any of the extremely qualified African-American women as potential nominees,” the group said in a press release last week.
The group also expressed discomfort about Kagan’s record on civil rights: “Justice Stevens distinguished himself on the Supreme Court as a leader in protecting and defending civil rights,” the NCBCP statement said. “We look forward to learning more about the Solicitor General’s record as it related to civil and women’s rights issues.”
Some Black activists and academics questioned Kagan’s hiring practices during her 2003 to 2009 tenure as Harvard Law School dean. During that time, 29 faculty members were hired. Of that group, 28 were White and one was Asian American.
Guy-Uriel Charles, founding director of Duke University’s Center on Law, Race and Politics, wrote a letter to the White House last month, signed by three other law professors, that addressed Kagan’s hiring at Harvard.
“We raised these issues because we think that the question of racial inclusion should still be a priority for this country, because we haven’t reached a satisfactory position on that question yet,” Charles told the Washington Post last week. “At the end of the day, one has to take the president’s word that he is satisfied that Solicitor General Kagan has the vigorous commitment to racial inclusion that her former boss, Thurgood Marshall, had.”
Jealous and NAACP off cials said they carefully examined Kagan’s record and came away satisfied.
“As a law school dean, she worked to ensure a diverse student body and faculty,” Jealous said. “And as Solicitor General, Kagan has vigorously defended the nation’s equal opportunity and civil rights laws. We look forward to actively supporting her nomination.”
Meanwhile, lawmakers who will ultimately decide Kagan’s fate debated her nomination on Sunday’s news shows. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), appearing on “Meet the Press,” said Kagan’s lack of bench experience and her closeness to Obama “raises a red flag.”
“Well, I think he learned from the (Bush administration’s) Harriet Miers nomination that when you’re a friend of the president and you don’t have any judicial experience, it makes it important to make sure that you’re not just going to be a rubber stamp for the administration,” McConnell said.
But Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), also appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” rejected McConnell’s arguments.
“She’s hardly a blank slate,” Schumer said. “There’ll be plenty of information about her. And the idea that she has to be a judge … some of our greatest justices had no judicial (experience).”