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Kagan’s Experience Qualifies Her for Supreme Court, MU Expert Says

May 10, 2010

Story Contact(s):
Nathan Hurst,, 573-882-6217

Richard Reuben, professor in the University of Missouri School of Law

Richard Reuben, professor in the University of Missouri School of Law

COLUMBIA, Mo. ­—The announcement that President Barack Obama will name Elena Kagan as the newest U.S. Supreme Court Justice has sparked much discussion regarding the current U.S. Solicitor General’s qualifications for the position. An MU expert believes the President made a smart decision when tapping Kagan to replace the retiring Justice John Paul Stevens. Richard Reuben, a professor in the University of Missouri School of Law and a U.S Supreme Court expert, says Kagan is more than qualified to take a seat on the nation’s highest court.

“It is rare to have someone who has experience in all three branches of government,” Reuben said. “She has also been the dean of Harvard Law School and currently serves as the U.S. Solicitor General; these are extraordinary achievements. What it takes to be a Supreme Court justice is a breadth of experience and the ability to make hard calls and to support those decisions with compelling reasoning. Kagan has done that.”

Reuben says one argument that will be made against Kagan is her lack of judicial experience. Reuben believes this is an overstated concern that hasn’t been an issue in the past.

“Historically, Supreme Court justices have been drawn from all segments of the legal profession,” Reuben said. “It hasn’t been until recently that federal judicial experience has been seen as a qualifier. In fact, William Rehnquist, who was one of the leading conservatives in the history of the Supreme Court, did not have any prior judicial experience. I don’t think anyone would question his qualifications for the job.”

Reuben thinks Republicans in Washington might object with Obama’s appointment initially; however, Reuben thinks they would be best served to tread softly on this particular nomination. Reuben also believes that while the Kagan appointment wouldn’t shift the current balance of the Supreme Court, she could have an influence on the court’s reasoning behind certain rulings.

“The kind of impact she will have will be on the reasoning of the court, instead of on specific rulings,” Reuben said. “She falls on the left side of the political spectrum, and since she is replacing a liberal-leaning justice in Stevens, she isn’t going to alter the ideological balance of the court. I do think, however, that she will work well with the court’s moderates to achieve at least more moderate results.”

Reuben joined the MU School of Law in 2000, coming from Harvard Law School, where he was a Hewlett Senior Fellow in dispute resolution. He earned his doctoral degree in law at Stanford Law School. Reuben covered the U.S. Supreme Court for the American Bar Association Journal, the Los Angeles Daily Journal, San Francisco Daily Journal and other publications for more than a decade.