Thursday, March 19, 2009
Floor Statement Supporting Elena Kagan's Nomination for U.S. Solicitor General
MR. REED: Mr. President, it is a distinct honor for me to rise in support of Dean Elena Kagan and her nomination to be Solicitor General of the United States. As most of my colleagues are aware, she has had an illustrious legal career that includes clerking for Judge Abner Mikva on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and also Justice Thurgood Marshall on the U.S. Supreme Court. She has obtained tenure in two of the most distinguished law schools in the country: the University of Chicago and Harvard Law School. She served as Special Counsel in the Clinton administration, and now she is dean of the Harvard Law School.
I had the privilege of getting to know Dean Kagan through alumni activities at Harvard Law School. She is much younger than I, obviously much smarter than I, but we still are alumni of the same law school. She is extraordinarily qualified to be the Solicitor General based on her intellectual gifts but also in terms of her temperament, her professionalism, her experience, and her innate sense of fairness and decency. She will represent the United States well, not only with her legal analysis but with her commitment to the principles that sustain this country based on the Constitution of the United States. There are many qualities that make her ideally suited for this job--her temperament, her maturity, her judgment, her success in leading one of the most complicated faculties in the country.
Most lawyers have opinions, so when you put 100 or so of them together, you have a lot of different viewpoints. She has led Harvard Law School with great skill and with great success. I think it will be an indication of her ability to lead the Solicitor General's office and to harmonize in principle, reaching substantive agreements, the critical issues that are debated within the this important office and going forward.
In the 5 years she has been dean of the law school, she also received great acclaim for bridging the differences in approaches and viewpoints at the school, with hiring new faculty members with diverse viewpoints, different from hers, recognizing that the heart and soul of an academic institution is debate, vigorous debate, not orthodoxy but vigorous debate, and she has done that.
She has been very attentive to the needs of the students there. I was particularly impressed when I visited the law school and had a chance to meet some veterans of the U.S. military who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan and who were then current law students at Harvard. Their praise for the dean, both her personal qualities and her leadership qualities, was unstinted. They saw her as someone who deeply appreciated their sacrifice as soldiers, marines, sailors, and airmen in the service of this Nation. They understood this not just from what she said, but from her attitude, her deep and profound respect for their service. I thought that was a particularly telling point, commending her to me in a very real and very immediate sense.
What is also particularly striking about Dean Kagan is that her entire life's work as a legal scholar shows a deep and profound commitment to the Constitution of the United States which governs us all. She has committed herself to giving it meaning, to making it a force to advance the ideals of this country. She brings not only great respect for the Constitution, great knowledge of the Constitution, but also the understanding that this is a document that unites us--our aspirations, our ideals, our hopes, our wishes for the future--it links us to the past and it unites us to go forward into the future.
She was asked by officials at my other alma mater, West Point, in October 2007 to speak to the cadets because they recognize that this is a woman of rare talent as a lawyer and rare judgment, someone who understands that we live in a government of laws, not of men and women. That is a fundamental lesson that must be imparted to those who take an oath to protect with their lives the Constitution of the United States, to recognize that we are a nation of laws, and soldiers, more than anyone else, have to recognize that because it is their lives that give us the opportunity to live under this Constitution of laws.
She used as a touchstone for this speech a place on campus at West Point called Constitution Corner. It was the gift of the West Point class of 1943. It was to recognize that, in fact, soldiers in this great country are servants to the Constitution.
One of the five plaques at this site is entitled Loyalty to the Constitution,'' which basically states what all of us who have been in the military are keenly aware, that the United States broke with an ancient tradition. Instead of swearing loyalty to a military leader, American soldiers swear their loyalty to the Constitution of the United States. I had that rare privilege on July 3, 1967, when I took the oath as a cadet at West Point.
The rest of her speech explored the fundamental rule of law, giving purpose and context to what these young men and women, soldiers in our Nation, will do when they lead other soldiers to defend--not territory, not business enterprises, but the foundation of our country--the Constitution of the United States.
She mentioned examples of people who have put the Constitution before their own personal comfort and privilege--President Nixon's Attorney General Archibald Cox, who refused to go along with summary firings in the wake of the Watergate scandal, and President George W. Bush's Attorney General John Ashcroft, our former colleague, both of whom did their best to uphold the rule of law in very trying circumstances. These are examples that I think resonated very well with the cadets.
I believe the dean is someone who has not just the skill, not just the mind, but the heart to serve with distinction as Solicitor General of the United States. She will be a forceful and powerful advocate, not for the administration, not for any small, narrow cause, but for the Constitution of the United States. I believe that is the fundamental role of the Solicitor General, one she will perform admirably.
I recommend without reservation Dean Kagan to this body. I hope we all rise to support her. If confirmed as the first female Solicitor General of the United States, we will be extremely fortunate to have her representing the people of the United States before the Supreme Court of the United States.
Mr. President, I yield the floor. I suggest the absence of a quorum and ask that the time be equally divided between both sides.