The President’s Supreme Court Nominee’s Competence

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.

About Jacques Delacroix

I am a sociologist, a short-story writer, and a blogger (Facts Matter and Notes On Liberty) in Santa Cruz, California.
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5 Responses to The President’s Supreme Court Nominee’s Competence

  1. Lmmore says:

    Your reasoning for deciding competancy is sorely lacking in anything except prejudice.

    • jacquesdelacroix says:

      I have no idea why you say this. It’s not useful to correct others if you can’t tell what they are doing wrong. (I don’t remember a single time when I did not publish a correction, however silly it sounded to me. )
      Let me say it again: President Obama never accomplished anything in his life besides getting elected. Even his grades of thirty years ago are hidden. Tell me how this does not show incompetence.
      By the way, it’s “competency,” with an e.

  2. A.N. says:

    Obama:
    – graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School and was the first African American editor of the Harvard Law Review.
    – wrote an acclaimed book in 1995, all by himself.
    – wrote 890 bills and co-sponsored another 1,096 since he was elected to the Senate.

    Those facts are readily available, but I’m sure there are many more that would require a bit of digging. Not that public accomplishments have any correlation whatsoever with competence.

    That being said, I agree with the thrust of your argument, i.e., that Kagan’s credentials don’t put her in the same academic orbit of “legal scholars” as Professors Volokh, Lessig, Miller, etc. But why does that matter? In fact, why wouldn’t you want a Supreme Court Justice who is more in touch with typical Americans than one imbued with elitist views of stare decisis and preposterous misreadings of terms like “person” appearing in the Constitution? I think a person who has never even attended law school would be the ideal candidate — certainly more so than any prolific academic I’ve ever met (and I’ve worked with many).

    Just because someone hasn’t spent their life dissecting, recapitulating, and proselytizing esoteric theories in an arena where it’s quantity of publication that matters, not quality, does not mean they are not qualified to judge. I would argue they’re probably in a better position to do so. What we need are people who can think from the perspective of real human beings and judge the law based on what makes sense, not illuminati who excel at rationalizing and justifying their own prejudices and couching them in oblique legalese. Bork Bork Bork.

    What were Bush’s accomplishments, aside from being elected? Being born? Attaching himself to an unconstitutional land grab via unjustified condemnation that displaced many people so he could have a stadium?

    By the way, her name is Elena Kagan, not “Helen” Kagan. If you can’t even get the person’s name that you’re lambasting right, pray tell how you manage to profess to have even a shred of credibility?

    • jacquesdelacroix says:

      AN :You are right on Kagan’s first name, of course. I must have had a senior moment. At least I got her last name right! Does not prove anything, except that I am sometimes careless where it does not matter much.

      HIs having graduated magna cum laude makes it even more difficult to understands why the President keeps his grades under lock and key. What is he hiding? Not his grades, obviously. You may not know that law reviews are customarily run by law students and the the position of Editor is elective. “The first African-American” qualification makes it sound as if it were more difficult for a nominally black man to be elected to the position than for a white man. I think exactly the reverse is true. In the 80s, someone needed dark skin in the position. It’s to Barack Obama’s honor that he was probably the best- looking black man around (and “without a trace of Negro dialect.” as Senator Reid said recently) for the post. The fact is, that even when he was Editor, he never published anything: never did all the time he was supposedly a “professor of constitutional law.” The book was a personal document by a man abandoned by his drunken African progenitor and his irresponsible hippie mother, a good story under any circumstances. It was bound to be a good story. It did not sell until he became famous nationally (like Paris Hilton). I have not read the book. It might be good. I don’t know who wrote it and I don’t think you do either. I don’t know if the number of bills he authored or co-sponsored is impressive. I don’t know means just this: I don’t know. I need a metric. I will put it up if you provide it. I don’t think Senator Obama authored any important legislation that passed . Correct me if I am wrong, please. It’s more clear with every one of his numerous speeches (not press conferences that are rare by any standard) that the man is only an actor. He can’t even say ordinary English words without coaching: I heard him pronounce “Navy corps man” at least five times as if he were talking about a man who is also a corpse. He may be no more ignorant than the average “instructor” in an American university today, I will grant you this. He does not have enough sense (as Reagan did) to surround himself with knowledgeable people; when he does, they keep their mouths shut, like Larry Summer.
      The idea of a justice of the supreme court without legal training is interesting. I wish you would develop it, on this blog or elsewhere.

    • jacquesdelacroix says:

      PS Bush kept safe at unsafe times. It did not do much else but that happens to be what I expect form the federal government. He started a war of choice which he won. I approved of the US action in Iraq then, I do now for reasons I have developed in several postings.

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