Ten days after the end of the longest government shutdown in U.S. history, Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan urged attendees at the Fordham-Stein Prize Dinner last night to break the cycle of division and reach across the ideological aisle to learn from individuals who may not share their opinions.
“I do truly believe one thing, and that is we only make progress by listening to each other and by learning from each other and that we should do that across every apparent divide: jurisprudential, political, you name it,” said Justice Kagan.
In introducing Justice Kagan, Dean Matthew Diller spoke about how Justice Kagan herself models this respectful, reparative behavior.
“In these divisive times, it is critical that we heed the great example that Justice Kagan speaks and lives,” Dean Diller said. “The person on the other side of the political or religious or cultural divide is not our enemy. Justice Kagan believes, as we all must, in robust, thoughtful debate about the meaning of the Constitution and how to apply its principles. But at the end of the day we can sit down with a person who disagrees with us and share a laugh.”
Dean Diller went on to describe the great friendship that Justice Kagan forged with the late Justice Antonin Scalia. The two went on numerous hunting trips together and got to know each other well, before Justice Scalia’s passing in 2016.
“For Justice Kagan, the law is not a cold set of prescriptions,” said Dean Diller. “It is the ultimate conversation starter—the set of values we share that can get us to realize the profound sense of humanity in our fellow citizens.”
Prior to her appointment as the fourth woman to serve as an associate justice on the Supreme Court, Justice Kagan served as the first woman solicitor general of the United States, under President Barack Obama. She served for four years in the Clinton administration as associate counsel to the president, and as deputy assistant to the president for domestic policy. She has been a law professor at the University of Chicago and Harvard Law School and served as Harvard Law School’s first woman dean. She clerked for Judge Abner Mikva of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and Justice Thurgood Marshall of the U.S. Supreme Court. Justice Kagan earned her J.D. from Harvard Law School and A.B. from Princeton University.
In opening remarks at the dinner, Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of Fordham University, recalled his first impressions of Justice Kagan, after meeting her when she was still dean of Harvard Law.
“I came away saying to myself and to my colleagues, ‘This is a great person. This is a wise, wise scholar of law. This is a person of great compassion who knows what is important in life,’” Father McShane said.
Justice Kagan became the ninth Supreme Court justice to be honored with the Fordham-Stein Prize. At the dinner, she expressed her admiration at the list of previous recipients, which have included two chief justices of the United States, six associate justices of the Supreme Court, four former United States attorneys general, three former secretaries of state, and many prominent leaders of the bench and bar.
“So many of those names are the crème de la crème of the legal profession in terms of their lawyerly abilities but even more in terms of how much they’ve given to the legal profession and to our country,” Justice Kagan said. “I truly am honored to be named in the same breath with them.”
Earlier in the day, Justice Kagan spoke with Fordham Law faculty at lunch, visited Professor James Brudney’s Legislation and Regulation class, and participated in a Q&A with Fordham Law students moderated by Professor Abner Greene, whose legal and teaching career has overlapped with Justice Kagan’s on multiple occasions.