Supreme Court nominee gets local applause

Harvard University students and employees watch as former law school dean Elena Kagan speaks on television Monday after being nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Steven Senne

Several members of Charleston's legal community praised President Barack Obama's pick of Solicitor General Elena Kagan to join the Supreme Court, both because she comes from outside the bench and would be the third female sitting on the high court.

"I don't see it as a disadvantage for her," said Charleston School of Law professor Debra J. Gammons. Even having not served as a judge, she still would have to absorb the facts and apply the law, Gammons said.

"It really doesn't matter," she said of any preconceived notions that nominees have to be judges first, said Gammons, who previously served 11 years as an attorney for the city of Greenville.

If confirmed, Kagan, 50, would be the first pick in 38 years to join the Supreme Court without first serving as a judge. Obama on Monday formally announced she is his choice to replace Justice John Paul Stevens.

Being a female is a plus, Gammons said, but she added that based on being a reflection of the population, there needs to be more female members on the high court.

Charleston School of Law professor Constance A. Anastopoulo, who teaches gender studies and torts, said Kagan's resume as the first female dean of the Harvard Law School and her previous vetting for the solicitor's job, means there should not be any hiccups in passing Senate confirmation.

"I'm excited," she said. "I think she has a very diverse background."

Anastopoulo noted that Kagan previously clerked for former Justice Thurgood Marshall, so she already has a foundation for how the court operates.

"It's nice to see someone come from outside" the current judicial roster, she said.

As solicitor general, Kagan is the Obama administration's top Supreme Court lawyer. To date, she has argued six cases before the current lineup of justices she hopes to join.

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., gave her early praise. "Solicitor General Kagan has a strong academic background in the law. I have been generally pleased with her job performance as Solicitor General, particularly regarding legal issues related to the War on Terror. I look forward to meeting her again, this time to discuss her qualifications to sit on the highest court in the land," he said.

U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., however, did raise a concern about Kagan's qualifications. "I'm concerned that she has no judicial experience to give Americans confidence that she will be impartial in her decisions," he said. "However, I will withhold judgment until she has the opportunity to present her views and the Senate has time to fully examine her record in academia."