tv Conversation with Justice Elena Kagan CSPAN August 19, 2017 4:08am-5:14am EDT
listen live on the c-span radio app. today, we take a look at preparations over the first solar eclipse over the united states in 100 years. mars exploration and more. beginning at noon eastern on c-span. >> supreme court justice elena kagan set down for a conversation with margaret marshall, retired chief justice of the supreme court, to talk about their legal careers and the legal career of sandra day o'connor. this is just over hour. good evening and thank you merrill. car where ig in my was a relatively recent partner at my law firm. hadlawyers and our spouses
returned from a firm outing to prescott, arizona, which has the oldest rodeo on the fourth of july. of course aware of the rumors that then judge o'connor was being considered for the supreme court, we asked her some questions. as you would expect, she was dismissive of the rumors and quickly turned in a conversation to another topic. as i drove that morning, i turned on the news. just in time to hear president reagan say, she is truly a person for all seasons. part ofssed the first his remarks and i had not heard him say who she was. during the rest of his remarks, he did not repeat the name. i of course was pounding my steering will asking, who is it? only when a reporter began speaking, i knew she was sandra day o'connor. i reacted the way many women
lawyers reacted, with great emotion. we hope the world for women and law had changed that day and it had justice o'connor's impact on women's opportunities begin immediately. first, we immediately felt new confident constant -- we could encompass what we wanted. also, she immediately disproved the notion that women could not areas the more amending of legal practice because if a woman could handle being a supreme justice, what areas should remain off-limits to female women? in addition, she was outspoken educating those who would deny women opportunity. , manynds of young women of us not so young anymore, tell moving stories of the difference she made when she spoke with
them at their elementary or high atool, at the law school, the law firm, at bar meetings, and events she organized at the united states supreme court. she also used her position and her influence to further other objectives important to her view of the essential nature of a judicial system that ensures continued to the rule of law. expending that judicial independence is the essential underpinning of our democratic government. she cautioned such independence is tremendously hard to create. and it's easier than most people imagine to damage and destroy. working with organizations, local, national, and international, she spoke with leaders and judges and lawyers in numerous countries to help them reach their goal of forming and independent judiciary. judicialto further
independence and reliance lead her to the realization that in this country, too few of our students and too few of our adult understand our government, our history, and our laws. alarmed and frustrated by the lack of civic education available to middle and high school students, justice o'connor began a project now known nationally as i civic's to teach citizens about our government. the justice and society program has brought together all of these important strands of justice o'connor's legacy through the sandra day o'connor conversations. i am delighted to introduce the first of them. i begin by returning to the different justice o'connor -- difference justice o'connor made for law. in 1981, this conversation would not have been possible. if we look to 1981 come up women who served as a state supreme
justice, our task would not have been impossible, but it would have been difficult since only for women had ever held that position. fortunately, those things changed. eveningrlaboratory this , retired chief justice margaret marshall spent 16 years in private practice and general counsel to harvard university for joining the massachusetts supreme judicial court in a can at as only the second woman to serve on that court. she became its first chief justice and i can and i'm and it served in that capacity until 2010. her commitment to equality and worked tooned as she end at minority rule in her home country of south africa, became a hallmark to her service to the court. and in 1981, it would have been not just difficult, but impossible to hear from a woman
who served not only as the first a male dean of the harvard law school, but also as the first woman to serve as solicitor general. we can do so today because we are joined by justice elena kagan, the fourth woman to serve on the united states supreme court. justice kagan established a distinct career in public service and academia before being confirmed as solicitor general in 2009 and 2010 as associate justice on the united states supreme court. , notontinues to practice initiated, but much of expanded by justice o'connor, speaking expand the important role of the court and of the rule of law. these two women embody the traits justice o'connor has worked all her life to promote. they fiercely support judicial independence and the rule of law. they promote civic knowledge and
>> it reminds me just how far we've come and help throw i am to see you as the chair. as we look, you are clearly a , ass ceiling breaker concrete ceiling breaker, whatever it was. i sometimes told justice kagan she is shorter than i am because she was knocking her head against concrete ceilings and mine were only glass. i begin by saying, what is your of justice o'connor, anywhere, anytime, anyplace? thank you for asking me that question because i have a lot to say about justice o'connor. the aspen institute for inviting me here. it really is my honor to be here to honor justice o'connor at this inaugural lecture named for her.
everybody knows she is one of the most important supreme court justices. she was also one of the greatest supreme court justices and people -- judges can be great for different reasons, in different ways. o'connor,r justice she was great because she did more good for this country that pretty much anybody -- than pre-much anybody in modern memory that served on this supreme court. if you think about this, this is a thought experiment, but suppose you were creating a constitution. somebody said, here is an idea. we are going to take all the really hot button important we arein a society and going to make sure they all go to the supreme court. then, the spring court will
have nine people in it, but really for several decades, only one person is going to make all the decisions. [laughter] and everybody will be talking to that person, they'll be writing reached to that person, he will be delivering their oral arguments to that person because they all know she will be the decision-maker. if you are in a constitutional convention and someone said that to you, you would think that is ridiculous. you can't do that why that one person -- you can't do that. why that one person? who is he or who is she? , if it wasis that justice o'connor, it would all turn out alright. [applause] and i can think of precious few people who you could say that about. in case after case, issue after issue, the most important issues of the day, hottest issues of the day, the most divisive issues of the day, that because
of circumstances, justice o'connor very, very often, almost always, cast the deciding vote, and she did so in a way that demonstrated extraordinary wisdom that understood something about this nation, about the people who inhabit it, about what they would and would not stand for, about what their best values were and she did this over and over and over again. and it really, we are such a better nation because of that. because of her decisions and her votes. there was a kind of practical has almost i think never been seen on the supreme court that she had. and this nation had a very good -- for, that for very
several decades, person of that practical wisdom, actually made -- actually decided a lot of the most important supreme court cases. what is striking about justice o'connor as well is that after she retired, most justices after they retire, they putter around a little bit. they putter around, they make a few speeches. one of the most remarkable things about justice o'connor is that she had this whole second chapter after she retired. the eye six program that she program thativics she helped design and led for quite a number of years now has done remarkable things in terms of teaching students across the country about our system of government in ways that make it
all seem like fun. and if this curriculum she has developed has been a great educational change. so she has had these two remarkable periods of achievement and a compliment. i have to say, part of the reason for that is, justice o'connor is a woman who likes to get her way. so just to tell one personal story about that, it goes back to when i was a very young lawyer. years a couple of after i graduated law school and i got to clerk on the supreme court. justice o'connor had been there for several years already, i clerked for justice marshall. i got to know some of the justices little bit, conversations around the building, and occasional lunch or two.
i got to know justice o'connor in that way. and justice o'connor at the time and i think throughout her tenure on the court, had an aerobics class. like 1980's style aerobics. [laughter] things justice o'connor liked was that she thought that all the women clerks should come to her aerobics class. [laughter] many of usere too then. i think there were only seven of us at the time. and she thought a good turnout would be seven. [laughter] now at the time i fancied myself as kind of an athlete. and i thought, aerobics? that was not real exercise, that was not sport. it's also, as some of you might know, there was a basketball court at the supreme court and the recipient times weekly, some
of the clerks and other members of the court staff go up and play basketball. and i thought basketball was more my style. so i went and played basketball. the basketball court at the court, until a few years ago, was basically, the floor was basically concrete. this meant, really you could not play for an entire year without seriously injuring yourself. and one day, it was my turn. of i towards some kind ligament or tendon or something like that and i was hobbling around, i was on crutches for several weeks. one day, i was at the court and i was walking down the hall with my crutches, making my way very slowly and justice o'connor was coming the other way. she stopped and she said, what happened? and i said, you know, i tore a
playing basketball. and she looked at me and she shook her head very slowly and she said, it would not have happened in aerobics class. [laughter] that's my justice o'connor story. [laughter] [applause] but i love justice o'connor and so it's real religion to be here. >> thank you so much. is that the end? justice kagan: you what me to say a few more words? [laughter] >> just a wonderful story. one of my guests likes to get away and she was on the basketball court and not playing aerobics. let me go back to touch on the second part of her career, which both merrill and loose of touched on. africa, whichuth did not have an independent judiciary so i really loved
watching justice o'connor and i read,o lead if i can, -- if i can, a short wonderful piece on her quotes and i want to ask you about your education. this is a quote from justice o'connor, which she has used many times to better educate -- many times. the better educated our citizens are, the better equipped we are to handle the system we had. every generation has to learn it and we had some work to do. i want to emphasize that when she is talking about our government, she is really talking about the structure, the function, the three ranches of government. where did you learn your civics education? where did elena kagan come from because we have not been's
teaching civics for a long time in public schools. teacher, ir is a don't know why you are not a teacher but i think you are a teacher. where did you figure out how the sky this system of government works? justice kagan: i was very lucky and there were lots of kids that were nowhere near as lucky as i was. my parents were educated people, my parents were very involved in their community and in civic activities. and i went to great schools. so when all those things happen, it's easy to pick up things about how the government works. but not all kids are that lucky. you look at some of the polls that are done, every year it seems another poll comes out asking about what people know about the american system
of government. sometimes they will read the first amendment and say, do you agree with that? and everybody says it no. [laughter] about ourc things structure of government, the institutions, the presidency, congress, the courts. it's always pretty shocking to me. so what i think justice o'connor recognized was that schools had to do a much better job of this. and that is what she has done since she retired in the court. >> let me just ask you a little bit more. she had been mostly talking to high school students and elementary school students. but i am astounded at how many, understandyal, don't the difference between the constitution like what you described. should law schools are doing more and universities be doing
more? justice kagan: i hope the people coming out of law schools -- >> they don't. the former congressman mickey we don't teach a think about civics and democracy and he was emphasizing our colleges and universities. i'm talking about the basic structures. they might know about the great itrt final deciders, but seems to me we have an awful lot to do. i think if you haven't done this time you go to college, it's very possible it will never happen. i am a big proponent in doing it early. >> we are not doing it enough at public schools. that you have civics, but you don't teach civics anymore. your brother's teach civics? justice kagan: my brothers are
both social studies teachers. >> do they teach civics? justice kagan: they probably do. [laughter] >> i have damaging questions for them. justice kagan: you have a new job, justice marshall. >> it will make my life so much easier. so justice o'connor, you heard ruth talk about how she heard the news. i wonder how many people here know justice o'connor's information hearings before the senate were the first to be televised in our nations history. if you want to be a first, you heard how she was quiet and first, where were you when you heard of her appointment? justice kagan: i don't remember where i was at that moment. but i completely agree with justice macgregor about how important justice o'connor was
for lawyers of my generation, women lawyers. and also men lawyers of my generation. in terms of the past that she set. when it came time for my confirmation hearing, you get up in front of the camera's and you are allowed to speak for five minutes and thank the people who ought to be thanked and two of the people who i think were justice o'connor and justice ginsburg. because that generation of women ,awyers and justice marshall made all the difference in the world. two people, one generation on. generation on.e they were saying i was the first this and the first that come up but it was more of a fluke than anything else. there were women deans at from
your law schools before me and there was a woman attorney general before, a woman solicitor general. women had already cracked that ceiling, not as much as you would wish, but it had already happened and it happened because of people like justice o'connor and justice ginsburg. to graduate at this time, there were such remarkable stories. they graduated first in their class and basically nobody wanted to hire them and they had to make their careers up from scratch. they had to figure out how to create these brilliant careers even when the institutions of the legal profession were saying, we are not ready for women. that, those two women made such an incredible difference. if you think about the four supreme court justices, it is justice o'connor and justice
on, it isnd 25 years justiceustice mayor and mayor and i would not have been possible if not for justice o'connor and justice ginsburg. that, but icept will not accept that it was a fluke. but let me ask you. you clerk for justice thurgood marshall, justice o'connor was on the court even if you didn't enjoy her aerobics class. what did you learn about how they, in their role as justices approach their work, what did they bring? i don't mean in a particular case, but how did you see they went about their work? o'connor,gan: justice i have artie spoken of what makes her so important and i can't really add anything in terms of what i saw in the court does chambers to function as sort of nine separate law
offices and i wasn't privy to the conversations with her about how she decided cases and so forth. one of the great honors of my life was that your clerking for justice marshall and to have that opportunity to sit with him and talk about cases and talk about anything else he wanted to talk about and often he did. [laughter] >> do you have any stories you can share with us? justice kagan: the stories about justice marshall were so legion i don't know where to start. my view, the greatest storyteller i have ever met. he was just a record tour. we would come in and talk about and those were serious conversations. i guess the thing i learned about justice marshall the lawyer was this, and i tried to hady it every day, that he
the knack of seeing straight to the heart of what most mattered in the case. a lot of our cases are very complicated and complex, you can ask a thousand zillion questions dealing with various facets of them, but often the thing you want to do when you decide a case, that maybe you want to do in an argument in a case, is ask the single question that goes to the heart of the matter. once you know the answer to that, everything else falls into place. and i thought justice marshall had that. i would call it, a real lawyers great lawyer skill of seeing to the heart of something or it -- of something. feltnk the reason we all privileged to clerk for justice marshall was not just because he was the supreme court justice and he had these great lawyer
ly skills that he brought to the bench, but because he had become this extraordinary lawyer, i think the greatest lawyer of the 20th century are not in part because of his skills and in part because of what he used them to do, being a great lawyer is doing a lot of justice. there is nobody who did more justice than thurgood marshall riod of timepe maybe ever. he talked a lot about his life the legalhis work for defense fund. and it sitting there in his office and being regaled with these stories, many of which were extremely sad, tragic, horrible stories, and somehow you are both crying and laughing at the same time because of the way he told them. i will always look back to that year and think, boy i had the
from -- it'so hear really quite extraordinary, great man that very few people did about his life, about he views the law, about the way he views the world. it was a real treat. >> i think he taught his law clerk one thing, how to be a rock a tour. justice kagan: i don't hold a candle. i can assure you. >> let me say a little bit more about being the sort of first woman, first african-american. they are important, there was a 25 year gap between the third and the fourth were appointed. there is an awful lot of discussion going on and i'm looking at a lot of students here, where there is evidence that you can be the first, in some ways i was the first and then something's came more easily, then there is the third,
fourth, fifth, and sixth, then things get stuck. and when you are talking to people that haven't been to the very top, who haven't been solicitor general or the dean of the harvard law school, what advice do you give them to give them the same kind of inspiration that justice marshall and justice o'connor gave to you? thatce kagan: i don't know i have much advice about how to become solicitor general or how to become -- >> i was hoping there would be an inside tip. justice kagan: the in the right place at the right time is what i would say. -- be in the right place at the right time is what i would say. whether i wanted to or not, i had to do a lot of advice giving to a lot of young lawyers and mostly what i told them was, to follow their own passions, to use law school and to use the early years of a legal career to find out what really happened --
what really mattered to them and genuinee for general -- meaning and fulfilling in their lives. it's different things for different people and to try and say, i'm going down this channel because this is what all my friends are doing is worth mistake you could make but instead, to really use those years to find a job that when you wake up in the morning, you just can't wait to get to work because what you are doing has real meaning and what you are doing, you think matters. it's in jobs that really matter that people find their own greatest personal fulfilling. >> did you know where you are headed or did you sort of find your way there? justice kagan: i didn't at all know where i was headed. my career path was lots of twists and turns and is exact and one moment i thought i was on a path to do one thing and
then it turned out i was on a path to do something completely different. 18 months asked me before i became a supreme court , i was in my sixth year at harvard law school, if you had said, what was the next thing? i would have said, i will spend a few more years here and i would go be a university president someplace. going outs that i was of law entirely and all of a sudden, something happened and i got this opportunity of a lifetime that has become solicitor general, which came and you know,e all of a sudden, i was a person who would naturally be considered to be a justice. that was widely i expected. >> before you became solicitor general who is the lawyer for
the united states before the united states supreme court, had you ever argued for the court? justice kagan: i hadn't and i will do you one better, i hadn't argued before any public court. [laughter] so here is a little bit of a story. rightbeen contacted people in the obama white house and they had asked me whether i was interested in a particular job and i won't say what the job is, but it was not solicitor general. and i said yes, i would be interested in that job. it was a very good job, not solicitor general. and it was a job where i thought, this is a job that kind of makes sense, that i have some of the experiences and skills to do quite well at this job. and then i was pretty far along the way through the vetting readss, where everybody
every word you've ever said and talked to everybody you've ever known since kindergarten and pretty far along that process, i suddenly got a call and it said, you are notded going to get that job, we want to know if you want to be solicitor general. and i said, what? [laughter] and i really did say on the phone, i have never done the supreme court argument. i'm not the person you want or need and i'm not the right person to fill that role. thought about we this a lot and we are confident you can do this. so i had to think about it a little bit. >> up hope. uh-oh. justice kagan: i told him i would call them back in a day or two and it really was, i am not sure i am the right person for this.
i have a healthy self regard, believe me [laughter] . [laughter] know.just didn't you just said it. you had never done an argument in a public court. i was giving you a way out. justice kagan: and then the self regard to go over again and i went in the back and i said, yes. that's what i found myself doing. i couldn't have done it except that the solicitor general's office is such a remarkable place. -- can anybody hear anything i'm saying? that does allfice the litigation for the united states. so in all the courts, particularly in the supreme court, and it is staffed with from fantastic lawyers administration to administration to administration.
there are only two people that to thesident appoints solicitor general's office, all the rest are people who are there regardless of party or administration. they are remarkable lawyers and they are incredibly generous people and they basically taught me everything i know, whatever that is. [laughter] >> do you remember your first argument? you start off with the intermediate courts or did you go straight for the big -- justice kagan: i didn't actually have that opportunity. my first argument was a special session of the supreme court. they call it a special session just so i can do my first case, which was a reargument of citizens united. oans] justice kagan: sounds as though you know it. it was all about campaign finance regulation. it had been thought of as a
small case when it had been argued by the deputy solicitor general. and then the court decided it had wanted to reconsider some of the president's that the case ents in which the case was based. it happened in september when the term starts in october. the lawyers are instructed to brief the following questions, those questions eating whether to overturn very significant campaign finance decisions of the court area -- of the court. you can imagine this was a little bit petrifying. >> not at all, not at all. justice kagan: i thought, my gosh, this is such a big deal, such a big issue in the eyes of the world. i better not mess it up. the one thing i said to myself and i think was right, in the
end, probably your argument is not going to make a difference. when the court does something like that, there is a pretty good sense on the courts are that it knows what it wants to -- it isit is doing giving everybody an opportunity to brief questions that they didn't have before, but there are probably five justices ready to overturn these cases and to issue this decision. so i hope i didn't lose the case. i don't think i did. it was a pretty petrifying experience. until you one story from that argument. -- i will tell you one story from that argument. my heart is beating really hard, literally, there was one time in my life where i know what that expression means. i practically couldn't hear anything because of the pounding
inside my own body. how am i going to do this? i got up to the podium and i had memorized, as people do, three or four or five sentences to start with. the first end of sentence, which frankly, i hadn't really thought was the key sentence, it seems to me a fairly undisputed and i'm kind of sentence. at the end of the first sentence, justice scalia leaned over the the bench in this way i over and i, leaned had just said something, a short declarative sentence and he says, weight, weight, weight, -- wait, wait, wait, wait. he said it more strongly than that. [laughter] he proceeded to tell me why this single sentence was wrong, but it was the absolute best thing
that anybody could have done a cousin it just forced me to be in the game right away and my own view is, he knew that. that he knew from the sound of my voice saying that single sentence, that i was a little bit shaky and he was just going to put me in the game right away and if summary challenges you, you have to stand right back and that is what happened and it turned out fine. [applause] i told the story once before, maybe even a couple of times before. and i had remembered it in my head as justice scalia leaning forward on the bench and saying, no, no, no, no. it was really the way i had remembered it. then one of the reporters who saw that speech that i gave said, you know it wasn't for knows how much it was for -- it wasn't four no's, it was four
wait's. say wait, everyone hears no. there was an expectation that five justices were ready to overrule some of the precedents. we just completed a year on the court, it runs from october to june where there were only eight .ustices can you talk a little bit about what that experience is like because the court did not stop issuing opinions. they were issuing opinions throughout the year. there were a couple that was maybe a chilly reading that they have been held, but it went on and on and it was not that easy to confirm another justice to the court. , i don't want be to save more consensus, but you
had to reach a decision with eight justices over an unusually long period of time. not much of a particular cases, but why that would be different. justice kagan: we went the better part of two terms with eight justices because justice scalia passed away in the middle of two terms, but before most of our cases had been decided were issued, and then most of this also with past year, eight until justice gorsuch got confirmed and set in the last month of the term. for the better part of two terms, we had to do it gently what you are saying, which was make decisions with eight people. courtss a reason why the do not have even numbers of
members. it's because when you have an even number of members, every case can and in a tide. every casee not -- can end in a tie. then you are not doing the job you are hired to do. said, i think the two-year. period had it won a silver lining. nobody would do it forever, but there was something we learned during that two-year. pe whichrio is this. das you say, we did keep issuing decisions because all of us were committed to trying to issue decisions. we did not want to look as though we couldn't do our jobs. and that was right across the 4-4d, people said, every
decision, where he threw up our hands, every decision is a failure on the part of this court. so we work very, very hard to reach consensus and to find ways to find ways to agree that might not have been very obvious. and sometimes they have led to silliness. toetimes the thing we found agree on was something that really nobody cared about. [laughter] but often, i thought the process was very good in terms of issues,ways to massage modify issues in such a way that all of a sudden we could see the prospect of a broader consensus than might have appeared at first glance. and i think that that was a good thing for us to learn. the chief justice hasn't said
from the beginning -- has said from the beginning of his tenure that he cares a lot about achieving as wide a consensus in our decision-making as we can. and i think that even before these two terms, we do that much more often than people give us credit for. about half of our cases are decided unanimously. another significant set are decided with only one or two dissenting votes. but still i think we manage to find consensus in places during the last two years, that we might not have expected to find come out of necessity. and because of great leadership skills of the chief justice. and you know, i hope that we remember that you do we continue to sort of go the extra mile to
see if we can find ways to build bridges across differences and to develop more consensus than you think might exist. [applause] justice kagan, i am going to with difficulty have to turn my back on you, because i'm going to ask the audience if there are questions and maybe while we are coming up with questions, i will ask you one other quick question, a very serious question -- we have talked about the independence judicially and i know that justice o'connor has become increasingly outspoken about threats she sees to our constitutional democracy. primarily, not because of
attacks of decisions, but the kind of conversation of things made to suggest that the supreme court, unlike the other two branches, is somehow beholden to the popular will, the majority of the people. do you have observations from sitting on the court, are you aware of the increasing concern? justice kagan: i think that we tune a lot out, because -- ms. marshall: you have to. justice kagan: we have to. you know this. and i think it is really important not to say this in a way that suggests the judiciary should not be criticized. ms. marshall: absolutely not. justice kagan: because the judiciary is doing important things. any given decision, some people may support and other people may oppose, and both sides have a right to say their piece. and so i think it is quite
important to talk about this, do not suggest that we are immune from criticism and everything we do is perfect. but at the same time i think certainly other actors in the system of government, federal, state, presidents, governors, members of legislatures, they too have been criticized but you hope that they respect the iniciary's important role the system. you said at the very beginning of our conversation, we are not mocracy, we are a constitutional democracy, that means the judiciary has an important role to play in the branches. of other and it can make the judiciary an unpopular set of people when they say to a governor or
president or congress coming cannot do that because it is not within your constitutional powers, or because it infringes on an individual's right. and again, those decisions also can be criticized, but you hope that -- and i think it has been one of the great glories of this american constitutional francis the that the great majority of time, however unhappy other governmental actors wore with the court decision, they understood that was the court's rule and they respected the judgments. and that is what you hope happens in the future as well. ms. marshall: and if i can add to that, the fact other branches of government and our people accept the decisions of the united states up in court is --
supreme court is a remarkable achievement. it was not going that way and it probably will not always be that way. in many countries throughout the world have tried to copy this model, but it is not so obvious when the court rules it will automatically be obeyed. that is from my point of view one of the great treasures. now. justice kagan: here, here. ms. marshall: the first question is going to go to one of our young scholars. other people put up your hands if you would like to ask justice kagan a question, because we have mics and somebody will find you. yes? >> as a justice of the supreme court, you are responsible for upholding a constitution that was written over 230 years ago. how do you honor or uphold the constitution while acknowledging societal change? and how might that responsibility come into conflict with your personal
beliefs? justice kagan: that is a big, deep question. [laughter] [applause] is after all she one of five scholars that came across the country to be here, so more power to you. justice kagan: can we go to one of the adults now? [laughter] ms. marshall: let me tell you, they are so shocked nobody is putting their hand up. [laughter] justice kagan: um. i think one of the most support and things for any judge, whether it is a supreme court justice, a trial judge, anybody, is to understand that your personal beliefs are not what matters. the law matters. now i am going to talk about something that is hard to figure out, what exactly the law is demanding, but it is the law that matters. your policy believes, personal beliefs, you have to put those aside, you have to put the many box, because when you are
interpreting a statute, it may not be the statute you would have written, too bad. when you are interpreting the constitution, it may not be the constitution you may have written, too bad. it is the constitution that we have and your oath of office and your responsibility to the american people is to do your best to interpret and apply the law that we have. the statutes that congress passes, the constitution that was ratified more than 200 years ago. your personal beliefs can be in that box and it is a hard job on which people will disagree as to how the constitution ought to be interpreted, what it means with respect to any given situation. job, part say, that of the reason that job is hard
is because of the passage of time you are talking about. but part of the reason the job is hard is because the chapters of the constitution -- the drafters of the constitution actually knew that the passage of time would happen and they want to the constitution to stick around for a long time. because they knew that they wrote it not to be very specific. there are all these phrases in the constitution which are not self defining, which you know, they do not tell you exactly what that means for any particular case. so if i say to you, i will use an example not from 1789, but from 1858 when the 14th amendment was passed, the source of an enormous body of current constitutional law -- if i say to you, the constitution says everybody is entitled to due process of law or to equal protection of the laws, now you have to tell me what that means.
and the dictionary does not just tell you that. so you have to develop ways of ensureg what it means to that every citizen in our country has equal protection of the law. now different justices have different views about how to do that and am not going to use this to push my own view. justices say that you really do have to look back and see what ever you can see about that moment when that amendment was ratified. i do not agree with that. i think the constitutional interpretation is more of an organic process, the way that you understand and apply those provisions is by looking not only to what they meant at that moment in time, but throughout the stream of american history up through our own moment. and particularly looking at what
the courts has said about those provisions, year after year after year. i think that is what produces the decisions that are most faithful to the constitution and that fits best in our current world. that is how i do constitutional interpretation. others do it differently. but we are all struggling with the same problem, which is everything the one of us on the court, i have absolutely no doubt are putting our personal views into that box as far as we possibly can. we do have different views about interpretation, about uh -- especially as to the constitution. in some ways with the statutes as well. and those differences account for divisions on the courts as to various important issues. all oft that is what --
us, every single one of us is applying our than own personal preferences in the way that they think makes best sense. ms. marshall: any other questions? [applause] ms. marshall: yes? thank you. first i am a retired high school teacher and i know i am not smarter than i high school student and i would like to congratulate them on their achievement, because it is really wonderful. [applause] ms. marshall: thank you. justice kagan: thank you for saying that. i should have said that. [laughter] >> thank you for your presentation justice kagan and he made a comment about each justice's chamber is like a separate law office. so my question is, i was curious
as to the process as to how much time you spend working on your own and how much time you spend debating with each other and discussing before you come to your decisions. justice kagan: most of your time is spent on your own. if i could count the hours i spend sitting in my office just staring at my computer screen, or talking with my own clerks, it vastly outnumbers the hours i spend talking with other justices. but of course, the time spent talking with other justices is where the decisions get made. so then you just spend a lot of time basically implementing the decisions by writing the opinions that you are assigned and so forth. but the way that we decide cases, maybe i should say a little bit about that, is we -- when we hear a couple of cases on, we hear a couple of cases on
monday and then a couple of days later we go into conference on those cases. so we have had some time to think about the arguments. we have also had some time, if we want to, we could reach out colleagueswo of your and see what they are thinking. but for the most part that does not happen all that much. really, the first time we get together and talk about the case is at a conference a couple of days later. and that is the thing i think, if you would ask me, what are you, what surprised you about the court? i would say the thing that you never know as an outsider looking in, however close you are to the process, you just do not know what that conference sounds like. so now that i have been at that conference, i can tell you that you would think it sounds pretty good actually, i think. the justices come in, everybody
is prepared, everybody is thoughtful, everybody listens to each other. the way we work it is the chief justice always starts, and he will say, remember this case, it was about x, y, z and the c, and then he, will give his own views and then everybody realizes they are preliminary views. he will say, this is what i think, and to sell i would vote to affirm or reverse. that it goes around the table and there is a role that -- rule that nobody can speak twice before everybody speaks once. and it goes into nordic from the chief justice to the senior associate justice, and then around the table in sin nor the -- in senority, and until a couple of months ago i was always the person that spoke last.
and i can tell you that as the person who speaks last, you definitely want the rule that nobody can speak twice before everybody speaks once. [laughter] it is a great but place to be and i have spent the last month regretting that i do not speak last anymore, because you get to anchor the conversation a little bit and hear what everybody has to say, gorsuchnk neil appreciates that position. and then more general conversation breaks out and people respond to each other. not infrequently people will say, i was thinking about it this way but some other justice said something that really has me rethinking the case and people's minds change or people find alternatives that they did not know existed, by listening to other people, so there is
pretty vigorous and i think, you know, really valuable debate and discussion at that conference. but then eventually we have a vote. justice in the majority, that would be the chief justice if he is in the majority, and whoever the senior justice is if he is not, assigns the opinion and usually the senior justice in the dissent assigns a dissent, although it is a little bit less strictly enforced. back to you do, you go your office and you do spend a lot of time staring at your computer and trying to implement those decisions as best you can. ms. marshall: i have a question. one more question.
you might be interested to know, the supreme court of massachusetts does it the same way, except the chief justice speaks less, which has all the advantages you said you had for the last couple years. so when we get our first woman chief justice of the united states i am hoping she will try a different model, because she might remember speaking less. [laughter] justice kagan: i think last is definitely better. but i think, i think the exception i would make is it is probably better to speak first. because if you speak first you get to set the tone. [laughter] ms. marshall: weight, weight -- wait, wait. question over here. >> i wanted to ask what advice you have for young girls who have ambitions similar to your
own, but face derailment along their path? for example, limited economics or lack of parental support, or family obligations that seem insurmountable -- how do you stick to your dream? justice kagan: yeah. so, there are lots of girls and young women who are not nearly as lucky as i have been. and to stick to your dream when that is the case, they are doing something a lot harder than i have ever had to do. but you know, i think success is mostly based on great and determination-- grit and determination for girls and young women who do not have great advantages. and the people who make it notwithstanding that, and who succeed despite all of the really terrible things that life
has thrown at them are the girls and young women that just have a s thatf stick to it-nes nothing will ever beat them, i think. you know, there are some people like that who have come from backgrounds like that on the current court. admiringunbelievably of what they have accomplished. and the two people who are like that, who really just had so much stuff thrown at them, are justice thomas and justice sotomayor, in their ability to rise above it all, i think both of them found people in their lives but i think it is mostly because they have the kind of steely determination and grit that says, i will not let
life defeat me. it is an amazing thing to see. [applause] ms. marshall: what a great thing. thank you so much justice kagan. [applause] >> washington journal live every day with news and policy issues that impact you. this morning, a reuters reporter talks about the cost of health insurance. robert woodson of the woodson center and bernard anderson for -- discuss race relations in the u.s. be sure to watch washington journal at 7:00 this morning.
join the discussion. discussion on how increasing ocean temperatures can make hurricane stronger and why tornadoes are coming in bigger and more powerful bunches. an hour.t is just over thanks a lot, felicia. i actually only wear one hat also. i really think of myself as a scientist. that's all i do. but if you do science for a long enough time, they put you in positions like being the chair of the department so it's not something that you seek out, but it is something that happens because you do a lot of science. i like to think of myself as a person who just focuses on one thing. actually it's two things. it's hurricanes and tornadoes.