Skip to main content

tv   Equal Justice Works Hosts Discussion with Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan  CSPAN  November 24, 2016 8:00pm-9:06pm EST

8:00 pm
to washington before about this democracy stuff. and of course washington was a true republican. he believed in republican government. >> sunday night on c-span's q&a. next, supreme court justices talk about their careers and their life on the court. we will your first from elena kagan and then clarence thomas. then president obama at the white house medal of freedom ceremony. supreme court justice elena kagan about her life and career at the equal justice works conference. this is an hour.
8:01 pm
>> welcome to the equal justice works 2016 career fair and conference. we're happy to have you here. i'm very proud executive director of equal justice works. you're in for a treat today. a conversation between justice elena kagan and and claire williams who is a judge on the u.s. court of appeals for the seventh circuit. let me quickly give -- where did i put my clicker? you took it. that's ok. justice kagan needs no introduction. the first female u.s. solicitor general. she is now the 112th justice and the fourth woman to serve on the united states supreme court.
8:02 pm
and claire williams has dedicated her career to public service. she was the first woman of color to serve as division chief in the u.s. attorney's office in chicago and in the northern district of illinois. she is the first and only judge of color on the court of appeals. cofounded just the beginning foundation which aims to increase diversity in the legal profession by inspiring more young and diverse people to go career. there will be a conversation about her career and her commitment to justice. let me introduce the audience to our judges. our panelists. that havestudents come from all over the country in order to seek their fortunes in public interest law. correct?
8:03 pm
they are interviewing for jobs in a career fair right next-door with 165 public interest employers and they want to find their path. forward tooking hearing your advice about how they might be able to do that. so without further a do. let me pass it over to judge williams. at my hero. >> good afternoon. i know we can do better than that. good afternoon. we are thrilled to have justice kagan join us for this conversation. her saying yes meant so much while we celebrate the 30th year
8:04 pm
of equal justice work. and because she is such a huge supporter of public interest , in this conversation, we will find out how and why she has that kind of commitment. you grew up in new york. was a how did they influence you on your path? >> can i say how thrilled i am to be here today? >> it's a great thing what you are doing, looking for ways to promote the public good. i'm really glad you all came to this. what was the question?
8:05 pm
>> your mom was a teacher and you went to the school where she taught. >> they started you on the path. it about what they instilled in you? >> you could not have grown up in my house without a commitment to public service. my father was a lawyer and was as close to -- i grew up in new york city and they think of it as a big law firm but my father put a shingle out when he graduated from law school. for very ordinary people with ordinary problems. then just sort of luck of the draw. he fell into representing tenant as new york city became more and more cooperative.
8:06 pm
but he was always extremely involved in community life. elected office but he was the chair of community board in manhattan. on projects of all , trying to stop the expansion of the west side highway. you couldn't have grown up in my house without a sense that it to thinky important about the community you lived in. and so i tried to live by that example. sometimes succeeded and sometimes not. i think of my father's commitment all the time when i have made choices about my life.
8:07 pm
in my mother was a great teacher. my brothers are also teachers. my older brother just retired. importantwas really and we had a lot of opportunities. but my mother was like, you got to take advantage. pusher and she thought education was the most miraculous thing in the world. and i think she communicated that to all of us. >> she was my first writing
8:08 pm
instructor. she was a tough teacher. half of the people who went come up to me and say i was in your mother's sixth grade class. and it changed me forever. half said it was the most terrifying experience of my life. maybe people thought both. she had high standards, i will say. she did take some interest in my writing. she was my first writing teacher. you could always do better with my mother. in fact, that is true. you can always do better. the more you work at it, the the
8:09 pm
more you edit an opinion, the better it got. justice kagan: to edit, edit, edit. absolutely, the more you work, the better it gets. justice williams: you went to high school in new york and you were a president of the student government. at what point did you start thinking about law and did you ever think about being a judge? justice kagan: i didn't really think about law that early. my father was a lawyer. i don't remember as a kid having the feeling that i want to be a lawyer, too. as a real kid, i want to be a
8:10 pm
professional tennis player and all those things. it was just not in the cards. i honestly went to law school for all the wrong reasons. when i was dean, there were always these weekends when you talk to the students you have just admitted and you're trying to get them to come to your school. i was in the middle of talking to them and i just said something like you shouldn't go to law school unless you really want to go to law school.
8:11 pm
you should not go because you cannot think of anything better to do or because it will keep your options open or all these reasons and then i stopped myself in the middle because i thought to myself, i think that is why you went to law school. [laughter] justice kagan: during college, i was a history major during college, and i really loved studying history. during college i think that i thought i was going to go on into history and graduate school and become a professor of some kind in history. and then i did my thesis which was a great thing to have done, it taught me an incredible amount. it also taught me what it was like to be a serious historian and to sit in archives all day every day and i realized it was not for me. i thought, i am not quite sure
8:12 pm
now what i want to do. when i did go to law school for not such great reasons but i was very lucky because when i got to law school, i realized right away that i loved it. it was the place for me. i think the reason had to do with the combination of two things. on the one hand i found it really intellectually exciting. there's a lot of law that is like a big puzzle. that you have to work out and in some of the most puzzle type classes were among my favorite classes. i loved tax and things like that. judge williams: those of you who love tax, there is hope for you. [laughter]
8:13 pm
justice kagan: things were you had to know stuff and put it together and figure stuff out. but at the same time, what was true was it was immediately clear that you can use this to make a real difference in people's lives. i think that is what was, for me, separated it from being a academic historian or something like that which was, this was not only intellectually thrilling but you could take that and make a difference and do something that would help people and that mattered in the
8:14 pm
world. there was that combination of the two things that made me realize this was the right move. i'm glad i am here. judge williams: i will ask you another one of those kinds of questions. did you ever you would be dean of harvard? justice kagan: no. judge williams: at that time, there had not been a woman dean at harvard. justice kagan: there was hardly a woman professor. judge williams: how many women
8:15 pm
were in your class? justice kagan: there were a lot of women in my class. i went to law school in the mid-1980's and graduated in 1980 six. at that point, about 40% of the class were women. it is not as good as it is now, but everything that happened between the early 1970's or mid-70's and when i started that it had taken a huge leap upwards. there were still very few professors. it was not until the spring of my third year that i had my first woman professor that was actually kathleen sullivan who became the dean of stanford law school. there were a lot of women students. judge williams: were there any special particular challenges women faced when you were in law school?
8:16 pm
justice kagan: it was odd that you never saw a woman professor. it is great that schools are doing better in that respect. i do not think it was like when you went to law school and not to say that you are that much older than i am. [laughter] judge williams: you notice that david didn't give you the year i graduated and that was a fairly
8:17 pm
good thing not to do. justice kagan: i am very conscious of, david said, there have been four women who served on the supreme court, ruth bader ginsburg, maria sotomayor, sandra day o'connor, and me. it is a little bit where we separate to into in terms of generations. if you are sandra day o'connor or written bader ginsburg, their persona few women in your class. when you got out, notwithstanding, they had been absolutely star students. law firms did not want to hire them and judges did not want to hire them as clerks. they really -- the doors were shut in their faces. from all the standard employers and they really had to make their own way. they created these brilliant careers, but they did it. it was so -- they made it up on
8:18 pm
the fly as to how they were going to get around the fact that all the standard employers said, not interested. and that was not true by the time sonia sotomayor and i came around. all the judges wanted you to be there clerk and i never faced that kind of discrimination. i didn't because of the incredible work and efforts that people like justice ginsburg and justice o'connor made. judge williams: that applied to me too. i am not in their group. [laughter] justice kagan: i did not mean to. judge williams: i know that. [laughter] judge williams: you mentioned opportunities and one of the things because a lot of these students do want to go into public interest. a lot of them are thinking is to
8:19 pm
go after they graduate from law school. you clerked on the d.c. circuit and you clerked for justice thurgood marshall. when you talk about the importance of clerkships and what it meant to you to clerk for those two extraordinary justices? justice kagan: i was extraordinary lucky. clerking in general is a great thing to do. not everybody but for many people. it gives you a sense of how the law works, a different sort of sense than you have from law extraordinary lucky.
8:20 pm
school and if you are like me, you have a chance to learn at the feet of people who have had terrific, exciting careers in law. i want to talk a little bit more about those two people and especially about justice marshall. you become a much better writer as a result. you learn a whole lot about how judges actually make decisions which notwithstanding you have gone through three years of reading judicial decisions, i think actually seeing how judges make decision is pretty eye-opening, at least it was for me. i felt as though just my legal analytic skills got a lot better. my writing skills got a lot better. and then i clerked for these two most amazing human beings.
8:21 pm
i have been thinking about him quite a lot. he was maybe the only -- he worked in an incredibly high level in all three branches of our government. judge williams: i think he was the only person who has done that -- the judiciary, executive, and legislative. justice kagan: he served as counsel to president clinton and was a judge in a different order. congress, judge, counsel to the president. he knew so much about how government works and about what you could expect of congress, of administrative agencies. it was this enormous amount of real-world knowledge about government that he brought to his work as a judge and that was important because he judged on the d.c. circuit and so much of their docket really is about how government works and reviewing various kinds of governmental actions and administrative
8:22 pm
agency actions. i learned an enormous amount about that from him. i also just learned about how to be a mensch because he was one. he was just such a wonderful person and open, generous, huge heart, a huge hearted person. and just seeing -- he was a wonderful mentor to me but to tons of others. so i learned a lot from him personally. and then justice marshall. that was one of the greatest years of my life and if you could say to a young lawyer, you could not have done any better than that. here you are clerking at the supreme court. it is a very heady and wonderful experience for any clerk. you have gone to law school and you have read all the supreme court decisions and then all of a sudden you are there and you're interacting with the people who have written these decisions and incredibly important legal issues, interesting legal issues, but then i always thought that everybody else in the building should be envious of the justice marshall clerks. in addition to all that stuff, there i was working for, i believe, the greatest lawyer of the 20th century, the person who, the lawyer who did most justice in the 20th century. and he was a great storyteller. it is not like he had these experiences and he did not let anybody know about them. he was an incredible raconteur. we used to go into his chambers and we would do the typical stuff. we would talk about cases and the arguments that were coming up and whenever he would finish doing that, he would segue in some impossible way into telling stories. he was funny. he was like make you laugh, make you cry. unbelievable stories about his life, his childhood, his time at college and at howard law school, the time he spent at lds and the different kinds of work you did, a lot of the criminal work, crisscrossing the south in the era of jim crow where you could not go into a restaurant and you could not use a bathroom in that the african-american client was on trial for crimes he did not commit in front of an all-white jury. incredible stories about that era and i felt as though i was getting an american history lesson and also a lesson in how a lawyer can do justice.
8:23 pm
i can't ever do it the way justice marshall did it. just to be in his presence and to soak that up was an enormously important thing for me. judge williams: was there a take away from him that helped inform you as a justice? justice kagan: i think you have to be your own person. i do not ever try to say what would justice marshall do because he was a different person. it was a different time. i think everybody, for judges, for lawyers, if you want role models about how to use law to do justice, you can't have a better one. judge williams: you left there and worked a couple years at a law firm. you joined the university of chicago faculty and then president obama. did you have much interaction with him? justice kagan: not really. i knew him a little bit. he had started teaching at the school when i left. the only thing i remember, he had started teaching as kind of an adjunct and he was practicing law at the time in chicago. and the school wanted to hire him as a permanent professor, something which he wisely decided he had better things to do. [laughter] justice kagan: i remember a recruiting dinner we had when he was before president obama. when he was just barack or something. i got to know him little bit but not very much. judge williams: that experience, you went from usc and you are a faculty there and then you left and joined. justice kagan: that's how i got into the clinton white house.
8:24 pm
i loved teaching and i was happy to be at the university of chicago, which was a great place. the judge had decided to leave his position on the bench and go work for president clinton. he called me up and he said , do you want to come? i had gotten tenure at chicago. i was thinking what is the next thing? and then he gave me the next thing and it was about as exciting an opportunity as you could hope for. judge williams: you worked on immigration, child support, welfare reform, things that are in the public interest so it can't guesstimate straight to -- so i can demonstrate you can have that kind of passion and work in other areas. it is not strictly to be a public interest entity. justice kagan: that is for sure. you can do a lot of good in
8:25 pm
government. government does important things and sometimes it makes people's lives work and sometimes it makes people's lives better and to be there and trying to make lives better. you cannot pick a place, i think, where you can -- you cannot get more done than if you are in the white house. so i had a great time there and i was a lawyer for part of it and then i was a policy person for part of it. i started as counsel to the president and he asked me to calm and work for him. so i did lawyer stuff in the
8:26 pm
white house. about 18 months in, i got an opportunity to switch over and do policy work and that was new for me. one of the things i liked about my career is the ability to do lots of new things, different things, and i remember when i was offered this opportunity i said i do not know anything about these issues, i do not know about health care and immigration and welfare reform. i ended up spending an enormous amount of time on tobacco
8:27 pm
regulation. and the person who gave me the opportunity just said you will learn. and i did. it was really a fun time. judge williams: don't you think there is value in knowing when to say yes and being brave and putting your foot out there to take a change and to make a change in your life? justice kagan: i totally think that. when i was dean, people would ask for advice. i always used to say law students are too risk-averse. they are too much, everybody else is doing this, so i have to do this, too. and they say, sorry, that is not on my plan. i have a plan and it does not include that.
8:28 pm
i found in my life that the best opportunities are the ones that you did not expect. i am huge believer in serendipity in life and in careers, especially in legal careers. and think that what young people ought to do and not so young people as well is to keep their eyes open for opportunities and even if they are not the kind of opportunities they expected, they are not the ones that were in the grand plan, to be able to say, that sounds like fun and it
8:29 pm
sounds a place where i could make a difference. so even though that is not in the grand plan, i am going to try that. even though i am not sure where it goes, still i am going to try it because, if it doesn't work out, i will be able to get back and do whatever thought i was doing, but it might open up a new pathway, which i never expected and which will be really terrific. and all the most fun things i have done in my life i did not really expect to do. judge williams: you went to harvard after leaving the white house and ultimately became the dean. was that in your plan? justice kagan: i do not think that was in my plan. [laughter] judge williams: at the time you took over at harvard, there was a split in the faculty. there was a lot of angst and you healed a lot of rifts. the work -- you were known as a unifier.
8:30 pm
in the public space, you run into an public interest, everyone is not aligned. what lessons can you share with us in terms of how you are able to get that reputation as a unifier and to move that faculty forward? justice kagan: i do think it is really important to talk to everybody. one of the things that i did when i was dean, when i first became dean, harvard is a very large faculty. i went to every single faculty member and i sat down with them for an hour. i had lunch with them. i had dinner with them just one-on-one and said, tell me about your concerns and how you think this place can be made better. it turns out just by listening and talking with people, you can get a lot done because people feel it is ok, somebody -- even
8:31 pm
if you do not agree. you can say, i do not think that that is right. i'm not sure i want to go down that path, but people will leave feeling that you listen to them, that you understand them in a way that they might think
8:32 pm
otherwise, and so i think a lot of bringing people together is just about spending the time and energy to make people feel as though they are being heard. judge williams: did those skills help you on the supreme court? justice kagan: i do not think it is transferable and that kind of -- i like to think i am a good listener. if you said, what are your three best qualities? don't ask me for the other two.
8:33 pm
i would say i listen pretty well. i think that has been important in pretty much every place i've been. it was important as a dean and it is certainly important on the court were all nine of us sitting around the table are listening to each other and trying to figure out what each other is saying and why each person is saying what he or she is saying and china to figure out a way to reach a consensus where we can or just to figure out where the lines of difference are. really listening to people and also not just listening but trying to put yourselves in their shoes, see the world from their perspective. i think it's an important thing to do in pretty much anything you do in life. even though i have convictions, i have opinions and nobody ever accused me of not knowing what i think. but at the same time, it is really important to be able to understand what other people think and why they think that and that is important in order to make progress together, which you are often going to have to do. and so the ability to put yourself in somebody else's shoes and see the world through their eyes is, i think, something that people should cultivate. sometimes i do it, sometimes not. it is something i am always aware of as a really important
8:34 pm
gift in life. judge williams: besides doing that listening with the faculty and building that, you made the campus more user-friendly. you built the student center. i want to talk about the emphasis you made on service. it was during your tenure you said it would be a requirement that students do pro bono. justice kagan: it was earlier than me. i can't claim credit for that. judge williams: you put more emphasis on it. justice kagan: i thought it was important to have the best supports that we could for pro bono work, for public service work. so i did put a lot of emphasis on it. and i think when people came to the school, there was an enormous number of students who were doing pro bono work. i think the mandatory pro bono requirement was 40 hours and there were students who were doing thousands of hours of pro bono work during the time they were supposedly going to classes. i mostly thought that was a very justice kagan: i've given you some of these. i think the most important thing is -- here i am talking to people who are trying to find jobs. i think the most important
8:35 pm
things in terms of career advice to do what strikes you as meaningful and important and exciting and fun. that you want to have the kind of job where you wake up every morning and you are eager to go to work and you are eager to go tort because you think that the work is really challenging and because you think it has some meaning. sometimes that will involve taking risks, getting off the beaten path, but finding what will fill you with that sense of excitement and that sense of meaning in your life is the key thing and if you do not find it
8:36 pm
the first time, you should keep trying, right? some people go to law school and they know exactly what they want to do. other people, they find it in law school. other people find it at some point in their careers but keep looking until you find that thing that just feels you with a sense of purpose and meaning and that makes it really fun to go to work every day. judge williams: when you left as dean at harvard and went to become our first female solicitor general, that was exciting. justice kagan: it was totally exciting. it was totally scary. until this job, which is for the rest of my life. justice williams: right. [laughter] justice kagan: it is really good i like this job because it is for the rest of my life. before that, i moved around a lot. i had -- before this job i had
8:37 pm
not done a job for more than six years, four years here and there and six years there. i like that. not everybody does. some people, they find one thing and it is the thing they want to do for the rest of their life. that is great if that is the kind of person you are and if you find this one thing. for me, part of what -- i like feeling as though i am on a steep learning curve and i most feel as though i am on a steep learning curve when you start something new. the learning curve starts to flatten a bit, maybe it is time to go find something else where everything is new and exciting again. when i went to be solicitor general, that is what i felt. i felt that the learning curve was kind of vertical and that was -- justice williams: straight up. justice kagan: there was not much curve. [laughter] justice kagan: i had never
8:38 pm
argued in appellate court before. so all of a sudden, you are arguing at the supreme court. some pretty important cases. judge williams: your first case the citizens united. justice kagan: it was. that was scary. it was the re-argument for citizens united. it had been argued previously by a deputy solicitor general. he had gone and argued the case literally the day after i had been confirmed and gone to the office of solicitor general. we were waiting for the case to come down and finally, at the
8:39 pm
very last day, the court said, we want to set this case for the argument in september. the court never meets in september so this was a special sitting. we set the case for reargument in september and we want the parties to focus on following issues and said we want to parties to focus on whether the court should overrule some very important campaign finance precedents. the writing was a little bit on the wall that the court was about to overturn those precedents and about to rule against, to invalidate the regulation of that issue. whenever i got really nervous i would say, probably they have
8:40 pm
already made up their minds. that said, it was pretty nerve-racking. it was an incredibly important case. i knew that there were going to be a lot of people watching and it was my first argument. i worked really superhard. i had the great good fortune of having incredible people around me in the solicitor general's office. one thing about choosing where you work is you should choose to work with people who are great lawyers, who, assuming you are doing a law job, people you can learn from. and people who you love and the solicitor general's office has some fantastic people and some fantastic lawyers. i felt as though i was learning from them all the time. they gave me great advice about how to appear before the supreme court, how to argue. and so i went and did it. judge williams: and the result was what you thought it was. justice kagan: i lost and i lost by exactly the vote i thought i was going to lose by. it was -- that whole year was a
8:41 pm
great experience. i felt as though i learned a lot. i felt as though -- justice marshall was the solicitor general. he used to say was his favorite job of any job. i remember this one thing he said. he said to go up to that podium and for him, to say i am thurgood marshall and i represent the united states of america was just a stunning thing. it was stunning for him in a way
8:42 pm
that it was not true of me. lots of women had gone up and said, they represent them. but still, it is a fantastic thing to go up to the supreme court of the united states and say i represent the united states of america on extremely important legal issues. i had a blast that year. judge williams: that was the job you had for just a year. justice kagan: i would have liked to have had it for longer. but there you are. it's not like you can say, call back in a few years. [laughter] judge williams: you were confirmed in record time. you were nominated may 5, 2010 and you had your hearing on june
8:43 pm
28, confirmed in august 6. justice kagan: is that record time? judge williams: it was really good time. justice kagan: it felt like it was taking forever. it was great that it happened so quickly. there was a lot to do. you have to prepare a lot. presumably, we are here to do business, which is to decide cases. most of the cases that we take are cases where there is what we call a service split. it is a lack of uniformity in the way federal laws are being understood throughout the country. you have a person in one place in the country being subject to a different law that another person in a different place of the country and that is a bad thing for federal law to apply differently in different parts of the country. i think we do a pretty important job is to make sure that federal law is uniform throughout the
8:44 pm
country. even more than some of the, we just decide the important questions. that is what the court does. we have to be in a position to do that. we have worked really hard over the course since justice scalia's passing. we have worked really hard to reach agreement and so we have not gone 4-4 in many cases and i give an enormous amount of credit to the chief justice and a lot of credit to my colleagues as well. but still, there are times where you can't reach agreement and if you can't reach agreement on a case you have taken, it's a serious thing. it is a serious matter. and then sometimes even though we have reached agreement, we have only done it by essentially re-characterizing the issue in a way that, it is not really the issue that people need decided. we have massaged the thing to make it, to decide a different question which, honestly, nobody really cares about, when the issue that people do care about and need decided is still left unresolved. so that, too, is a problem. so we have -- i think the court has done a great job, honestly in these last months, really trying to make it work. and as i say, the chief gets an incredible amount of credit for that. there is a reason why courts
8:45 pm
have odd numbers of members -- to make sure they can reach decisions all the time in all the cases that need deciding and all the issues that need deciding. judge williams: let's go back to when your buddy, justice scalia, was on the court and there were a number of 5-4 decisions. i think it was about 20% of the cases. you go the last 30 years with all the different chief justices, still that same percentage, but those of the cases -- justice kagan: it is about 15% or 20%. i think we don't get a lot of credit. people think that is all we do is reach 5-4 decisions. in fact, it's not.
8:46 pm
there are a lot of decisions we reach unanimously or by a pretty lopsided vote. there are some cases which previously were 5-4 and now have the possibility of being 4-4, that is an issue. judge williams: i know i'm going to ask a question you all get asked. when you are in that 5-4 land, how does that affect your relationships? justice kagan: i do not think honestly it does. which is not to say that you would like to win. i am a pretty competitive
8:47 pm
person. everybody who knows me will tell you. and so there are times when i have come back from conference and i am ready to slam my fist into a wall. at the same time, you said my buddy, justice scalia, and he truly was my buddy. one of the things that he used to say is if you take it personally, you should not be in this job. i think that that is absolutely right. you cannot take it personally. first off, just for strategic reasons, there is going to be the next case and the next case
8:48 pm
and the next case after that. you better have continuing good relationships with your colleagues. putting strategy aside, the fact of the matter is these are people who sometimes disagree with you, but they are working really hard. they are approaching the matter in good faith. they are deeply committed to their view of the law, the constitution. and you can't forget that. you cannot forget that they're trying to get it right just as much as you are trying to get it
8:49 pm
right. sometimes you're going to disagree, but you are trying to do the same thing, which is to interpret and apply the law as best you can. maybe there is a way which we can all reach agreement and this is what it might be. sometimes if you are the ninth, there is a drum roll. 4-4 when it comes to you and what are you going to say? it is better to be ninth or eighth or seventh or six or something. but honestly, if you really could choose, you would choose to be some of the senior justices, right? they are kind of setting the table for everything else that happens. judge williams: and then they are making the assignments. justice kagan: the senior justice in the majority makes the assignments. and often, usually, the senior justice in any group of defenders makes the assignments. judge williams: i want to turn to just opinion writing because we know you love to write. your mom had that -- that is where that began working with her. what is your goal in opinion writing because sometimes students will read an opinion and sometimes it is not always the clearest and it is not just the supreme court, but it is courts of appeals and district courts, so what is your philosophy?
8:50 pm
justice kagan: it is hard to make law clear because law can be incredibly complicated and arcane. not particularly intuitive, some of the legal issues we confront. i try very hard to make my opinions readable and to make them understandable by ordinary people, even without law not particularly intuitive, some of the legal issues we confront. i try very hard to make my opinions readable and to make them understandable by ordinary people, even without law degrees, but people who will put in the time and effort and energy to read an opinion i hope that i will be able to be understood by those people. you do not want to dumb it down too much. you're not writing at a second grade level. it has got to be serious and it has got to take the argument seriously.
8:51 pm
you never want to oversimplify things, but to the extent that i can write something where i am not sacrificing the level of complexity that i think truly is in the material, i am not sacrificing that for clarity, that i managed to achieve both. stating clearly, complex things in all their complexity. that is what i tried to do. that takes a lot of work. when you go back, when we started talking, i said the more editing you do, the better it gets. i really believe that about legal writing is the legal writing is hard. it is a complicated subject and you're trying to express it in a way that people can understand. and so i spent a lot of time thinking about that and i spend a lot of time thinking about that and i spend a lot of time thinking not that you should be able to understand something, but what i am try to do with an opinion, i am trying to tell you why we reached a result. if i can tell a story in a way that makes you see, of course, that is right, that is why you should have reached that result. i do think of opinions as a kind
8:52 pm
of, here is my story for why the court was right or why if i am in dissent, why the court was wrong. to reach the decision that it did. i want to really move people to say, i get it. whether you do that by analogies or hypotheticals, or there are all kinds of different techniques but to get people to say, i get why this is so right or i get why this is so wrong. judge williams: in terms of flipping it to our law students, in terms of their writing, their page limits, do you think lawyers have to write up to the end of the page limit? justice kagan: when i pick up a brief and it is not at the end of the page limit, i am happy. there are some the briefs that go to the end. the only reason this is going to
8:53 pm
the and because they were trying to get to the end. why do that? if it works either way, the judges are positively inclined right toward briefs that do not necessarily take every word that is allowed them. judge williams: or like i say, less is more. justice kagan: it's hard to write that way. if i tell my clerks you have a seven page limit on bench memos, they will often tell me, it is hard to knock it down to seven pages and i say, you have to think about what is actually important. and that is not a bad thing to judge williams: or like i say, less is more. justice kagan: it's hard to write that way. if i tell my clerks you have a seven page limit on bench memos, they will often tell me, it is hard to knock it down to seven pages and i say, you have to think about what is actually important. and that is not a bad thing to think about. judge williams: you have some other interests while you're there at the court and you as the junior justice were spokespersons for the law clerks on some dessert they wanted in
8:54 pm
the cafeteria. [laughter] justice kagan: i think i know what you mean. i will go back. when we talk about my deanship, you did these important things, you promoted public interest work and things like that. if you just grabbed the typical harvard law student and say, what is the best thing that dean kagan did ?kagan did, they would -- they would say free coffee. [laughter] and so when i got to the court, one of the things that goes with the junior justice roll, which i am, you serve on the cafeteria committee. it is like a form of hazing. [laughter] justice kagan: the chief justice thinks you have gone through this confirmation hearing and he probably you're pretty hot stuff. we are going to put you on the cafeteria committee. then i thought, ok, based on my experience, i thought this was
8:55 pm
an opportunity, right? one of the things i learned was you can do a lot with food. feed people well. i did a little bit of survey, what do people want and it turned out what they wanted was a frozen yogurt machine. [laughter] so i got a frozen yogurt machine for the supreme court cafeteria and i do really feel that i can write a lot of opinions and all this is very important and nice and good. i am the frozen yogurt justice. [applause] [laughter] judge williams: according to another buddy of yours, justice ruth bader ginsburg, you also have the best jab and cross step. justice kagan: we share a trainer. i am actually not a huge fan of exercise, all right? i find a lot of exercise kind of boring, but the trainer has gotten me into boxing and
8:56 pm
kickboxing. which is fantastic. i love doing this. judge williams: that's better than basketball. you played basketball when you are clerk. and you still play basketball. justice kagan: right. last week, i went down to louisville, kentucky at the university of louisville's law school. the thing that the town of louisville's most famous for his that it is mohammed ali's city. i did some events at the law school. they gave me a gift at the end, it was the best gift i have ever gotten. they went to the mohammed ali musing and they got me boxing gloves. so now i have mohammed ali
8:57 pm
boxing gloves. judge williams: as we wrap up our hour, we can only do what we can do. we covered the gist of most of them. i wanted to know what your final words would be, not final final but -- a poor word choice. what comments would you like to leave? really it is two points. what would you like to say them? if there is no more you want to say about them and about being law students, what do you want your legacy to be? justice kagan: oh gosh. i believe that to other people. i believe my legacy is to the historians and to the writers. what is important to me as i go through this job and as i think
8:58 pm
about this job every day is that i give my all to it at work as hard as i can and i try to make sure that in every case that i've gotten it right and i have climbed every case to the degree i feel is really necessary to understand it and to decided correctly. that i worked really hard on my opinions, both my majorities and dissents. what the legacy i think it will take care of itself. the thing to do is just worked really hard and set high standards for yourself in terms of the quality of your work. and what people say about it later, they will say about it later. judge williams: justice stevens had a piece of advice for you. justice kagan: justice stevens said to me one of the things about doing a job like this,
8:59 pm
which will go on for a long time, as i said earlier, my career has been one of jumping around a lot and doing jobs for five-year stretches. thinking about how to do a job for two or three or however many decades is a really different kind of experience. justice stevens had served on the court for 35 years and every year, he focused on the things that he was learning that year. even though it was his 20th year on the court, he was learning new things. maybe he was learning new areas of law or skills. there was always a way to keep learning, even in a job you had done for a long time. i think that is incredibly important advice, which i try to think about all the time. i am in all of many of my colleagues that they have been on the court for a lot of years,
9:00 pm
but they are still thinking hard about every case. i think everybody on the court does that. even people who have been there for really quite a long time. i'm a huge fan of my colleagues for that reason.i think that eve court does that. people who have been there for quite a long time. i am a huge fan of my colleagues for that reason, too. there is nobody there that is on autopilot. it might be the 23rd time i have seen this issue. but i am going to think through this issue as hard as i did the first time. williams: i said that she talked -- justice kagan, she talked about her parents. parents'that her memories remind her every day the impact that public service can have aired she said she prayed every day that she would live up to the example they set. i think we can all agree that
9:01 pm
she has succeeded that example. lived up their expectations. you have had a huge impact on public service and education for this generation and the next. thank you so much for being with us. [applause] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2016] >> we have a special webpage to help you follow the supreme court. and supreme court near the right-hand top of the page. the mostsee four of recent oral arguments heard by the court this term. click the view all link to see
9:02 pm
all of the oral arguments covered by c-span. watch justices in their own words, including one-on-one interviews in the past few months with justices kagan, thomas, and ginsburg. there is also a calendar for this term with the links to quickly see all their appearances on c-span, as well as many other supreme court videos available on demand. follow the supreme court at >> on the next washington discussesetsy mccoy the future of the health care law and her book "obama health law, how to overturn it." howamin shriver talks about dealingental groups are with the trump administration
9:03 pm
energy agenda. as always, we will take your calls and you can join the conversation on facebook and twitter as well. >> here's some of our featured programs coming up this weekend on c-span. saturday night at 8:00 eastern, the state of the black world conference, discussing the impact of that when he 16th election. julian malveaux, off-road -- author of the book "are we there yet?" also ross baraka, mayor of newark, new jersey. >> we have an agenda. we also have to unite with other people to win. the object is to win. we don't want to struggle for struggles sake.
9:04 pm
there are thousands of people in our community, hundreds of people who are in jail, who have been beat, who are dead. we are not activists and revolutionaries because it's fun . my mother and father did not participate in the movement for metals, for awards, for twitter, thesestagram, to get all things, to be praised. they did it because it was necessary. sands >>.d by ben it turns out the meaning of america's persuasion. the meaning of america is love. the meaning of america is building a better product or creating a better service or persuading somebody to marry you or persuading someone to join your church or synagogue. there is a huge civic mindedness in american history. 6:30, newtvening at gingrich, van jones and tammy -- and pat the
9:05 pm
>>nedy discuss the opioid problem. this is a biological thing. your brain is in oregon. once doctors -- your brain is an organ. your collar bone, take these pills. for a lot of people, those pills damage that organ. now an interview with supreme court justice clarence thomas in october, marking the 25th anniversary of his appointment to the supreme court. from the heritage foundation, this is one hour and 10 minutes.


info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on