Kagan Was ‘Not Sympathetic’ as Law Clerk to Gun-Rights Argument
Kagan Was ?Not Sympathetic? as Law Clerk to Gun-Rights Argument - Bloomberg.com
May 13 (Bloomberg) -- Elena Kagan said as a U.S. Supreme Court law clerk in 1987 that she was “not sympathetic” toward a man who contended that his constitutional rights were violated when he was convicted for carrying an unlicensed pistol.
Kagan, whom President Barack Obama nominated to the high court this week, made the comment to Justice Thurgood Marshall, urging him in a one-paragraph memo to vote against hearing the District of Columbia man’s appeal.
The man’s “sole contention is that the District of Columbia’s firearms statutes violate his constitutional right to ‘keep and bear arms,’” Kagan wrote. “I’m not sympathetic.”
Kagan, currently the U.S. solicitor general, has made few public remarks about the Constitution’s Second Amendment. The Supreme Court in 2008 ruled, in a case that overturned the District of Columbia’s handgun ban, that the Constitution protects individual gun rights.
As a nominee to be solicitor general last year, Kagan told lawmakers that she accepted that 5-4 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller as a precedent of the court.
“There is no question, after Heller, that the Second Amendment guarantees individuals the right to keep and bear arms and that this right, like others in the Constitution, provides strong although not unlimited protection against governmental regulation,” she said.
The Heller decision left room for states to require registration of weapons. The majority also said the ruling didn’t cast doubt on laws barring handgun possession by convicted felons and the mentally ill, or restrictions on bringing guns into schools or government buildings.
The lower court ruling in the 1987 case, issued by the District of Columbia’s highest court, said the Second Amendment protects only the rights of states to raise militias, and not individual gun rights. The ruling upheld Lee Sandidge’s conviction for carrying a pistol without a license, possession of an unregistered firearm and unlawful possession of ammunition.
The high court refused to hear the case, known as Sandidge v. United States. The memo to Marshall, found in his papers at the Library of Congress, includes a handwritten “D,” indicating that he was among those who voted to deny review.
White House spokesman Ben LaBolt said the position taken in the memo to Marshall reflected the prevailing view of the law at the time.
During her confirmation hearing to be solicitor general, the federal government’s top Supreme Court advocate, Kagan said she was trying to reflect Marshall’s views when she evaluated so-called petitions for certiorari, or cert petitions. She called herself a “27-year-old pipsqueak” working for a “90- year-old giant in the law.”
“He was asking us, in the context in those cert petitions, to channel him and to think about what cases he would want the court to decide,” Kagan said. “And in that context, I think all of us were right to say, ‘Here are the cases which the court is likely to do good things with from your perspective, and here are the ones where they’re not.’”
Marshall was a civil rights icon before becoming the first black justice. He led the legal fight to dismantle the “separate but equal” regime in public education, arguing the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case.
As a justice, he opposed the death penalty and backed abortion rights and affirmative action. Kagan, now 50, clerked for Marshall during the court’s 1987-88 term and has described him as one of her heroes.
Clues to Kagan
The memos provide clues to Kagan’s potential approach as a justice. Much like Marshall, Kagan might find herself playing defense, at least in her first few years, working strategically to thwart the agenda of a more conservative majority.
Kagan on numerous occasions urged the justice to vote for so-called defensive denials, rejecting appeals from criminal suspects and defendants to prevent his more conservative colleagues from giving more power to police and prosecutors.
She urged rejection of an appeal from an Illinois man whose burglary conviction hinged on evidence discovered when he was stopped, ordered to lie down and searched by police. The search took place even though police lacked the “probable cause” required to make an arrest, Kagan said.
Kagan said she thought the court, if it heard the case, would uphold the conviction. That “would be an awful and perhaps quite consequential holding,” she wrote.
In recent years, Chief Justice John Roberts and four colleagues have joined forces in 5-4 decisions to strike down campaign finance regulations and limit shareholder lawsuits, as well as to protect gun owners’ rights.
B-Minus in Torts
The Marshall papers also include Kagan’s Harvard Law School transcript and glowing letters of recommendation to the justice from her professors. “She is soft-spoken and delightful to be with, but razor-sharp and iron-hard in intellectual give and take,” wrote one, Abram Chayes.
One professor referenced her transcript, which showed Kagan got off to a slow start as a law student. She received a B in criminal law and a B-minus in torts in the fall of her first year, later receiving predominantly A’s in classes including constitutional law.
“Whatever was in her way on those fall term exams, it wasn’t affecting her class performance even during the fall, and evidently was gone by exam time in May,” wrote Frank Michelman, who taught her in a spring property law course and said he had contact with his students starting in September.
To contact the reporters on this story: Greg Stohr in Washington at [email protected]; Kristin Jensen in Washington at [email protected].
Last Updated: May 13, 2010 00:01 EDT
IN OMNIA PARATUS
This Sunday, our nation will celebrate Independence Day, which commemorates the Continental Congress’ adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration preamble reads: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The fact that we as a nation came together every year to celebrate this document might lead many Americans to believe that a Supreme Court Justice should take the Declaration of Independence into account when they are interpreting the Constitution. Elena Kagan is not one of those Americans. Under questioning from Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) yesterday, Kagan admitted: “To be honest with you, I don’t have a view of what are natural rights independent of the Constitution.”
And Kagan’s disturbing indifference to the existence of natural rights is just one of the many frightening revelations her confirmation hearing has produced. On Tuesday, Sen. Coburn pressed Kagan about the limits the Constitution places on Congress’ power to control what Americans do:
Coburn: If I wanted to sponsor a bill and it said Americans, you have to eat three vegetables and three fruits every day and I got it through Congress and that’s now the law of the land, got to do it, does that violate the Commerce Clause?The law Coburn was referring to, of course, was President Barack Obama’s signature legislative accomplishment: the Obamacare provision that forces all Americans to buy health insurance... read the rest at...
Kagan: Sounds like a dumb law
Coburn: Yeah, but I got one that’s real similar to it that I think is equally dumb. I’m not going to mention which it is.
Kagan: But I think that the question of whether it’s a dumb law is different from whether the question of whether it’s constitutional and I think that courts would be wrong to strike down laws that they think are senseless just because they’re senseless.
Morning Bell: The Limitless Power of the Obama-Kagan Congress | The Foundry: Conservative Policy News.
"The people never give up their liberties, but under some delusion." - Edmund Burke