Professors in respected universities, such as Harvard and U of Chicago, are supposed to engage in scholarship. I have described academic scholarship elsewhere but to put it briefly, this entails getting your work published in periodicals where the practice is to have submissions anonymously reviewed by peers . (Anonymous peer review is an imperfect but strong quality label, in my judgment.) For law school professors, the standard is publication in law review journals associated with the best law schools. Roughly, people who know what they are doing in academia have many publications. Academics who have few publications are normally incompetent or lazy. A few may be cynically milking the system: Being an academic is not a bad life.
It’s next to impossible to obtain tenure in any school of any good university without a good publication record. That’s true everywhere except when considerations of affirmative action enter the calculus. Tenure is worth having and everyone wants it. It makes it difficult to fire you absent strong economic reasons. It means you will never have to kiss ass again. (Not that I ever did, mind you.)
Helen Kagan, the President’s nominee for the Supreme Court has a life-time publication record of five (5). President Obama, who was never in line to be a professor, has zero (0). To give you an idea, I have more than twenty or more and I certainly would not propose myself as a model of industriousness, and I spent most of my academic life in a second-tier university at best, not a Harvard or U of Chicago.
Some bitter characters who can’t forget the unjust “C” they were given twenty or even thirty years ago will say, “Who cares about academic articles nobody reads anyway?” They are missing the point. Who cares about some ten stupid grown men throwing a stupid ball into a stupid basket that does not even look like a “basket” ? The fact is that if you never throw the ball into the loop, you are a bad basketball player, if seldom, you are mediocre. It’s that simple. The point is to take people at their word. I don’t judge plumbers on their elegance. I don’t expect car mechanics to recite poetry. If you tell me you are a university professor I ask you what your record is in what professors do. Incidentally, your being a dean or a university president does not answer the question. University administrators are rarely among the best. They are often the worst of the reasonably good (of those who earned tenure). Frequently, a university administrative career is a consolation prize for ambitious academics lacking in intellectual gifts.
By this obvious standard, Helen Kagan showed minimal competence as a professor and as a legal scholar. She also has had minimal experience in any court. Regardless of party affiliation, one should wonder why she should be on the Supreme Court at all.
Incidentally, Pres. Bush once nominated someone minimally competent for the Supreme Court. Republicans forced him to cancel.