At a White House background briefing this morning on the nomination of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, Vice President Biden's chief of staff Ron Klain said the nominee is "clearly a legal progressive" whose "pragmatic perspective" will be an important addition to the Court. Asked to elaborate, Klain cited aspects of her resume, not any expressed views. She clerked for appeals judge Abner Mikva and Justice Thurgod Marshall and for Presidents Clinton and Obama, Klain noted, so "I don't think there's any mystery" to the fact that she is a progressive.
Responding to criticism that is already being expressed over her policy toward military recruiters at Harvard Law School, Klain also said it is "ridiculous and absurd" to characterize Kagan as anti-military. Military recruiters were excluded first by the prior dean because the armed forces' "don't ask, don't tell" policy toward gays violated the law school's anti-discrimination policy. Kagan's continuance of the policy during her tenure, after the law requiring equal access for military recruiters had been struck down, did not keep military lawyers from recruiting Harvard students off-campus -- where most job interviews take place anyway, Klain said.
"Elena respects military service," Klain added, noting that while she was dean from 2003 to 2009, she held an annual dinner for Harvard Law alumni who are veterans. Klain addressed other matters that may come up in coming weeks as Kagan makes the rounds with senators. On religious diversity on the Court -- Kagan is Jewish, replacing the only Protestant left on the Court -- Klain said, "I never heard the President discuss the religion of any candidate. On other candidates who were considered, Klain said that even though Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano would make a great justice, it became "inconceivable" that she would be pulled away from the crises -- from oil spills to terrorism -- that are occupying her attention.
Klain said President Obama picked Kagan from a list of more than two dozen early candidates. Both Obama and Vice President Biden interviewed the finalists, and Kagan -- who once worked for Biden when he was a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee -- dined with Biden at the vice-president's home during deliberations over the Supreme Court nomination. Biden is "a huge fan of hers," said Klain, and is "thrilled" that she was selected.
For his own part, Klain said he has known Kagan since they were both at Harvard Law School. Klain clerked for Justice Byron White the same year Kagan clerked for Justice Thurgood Marshall. When White retired in 1993, it was Klain, then working in the Clinton White House, who received the news from White. Klain was a top aide to the Al Gore campaign in 2000, then became a partner at O'Melveny & Myers in D.C.