Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan entered St. John's University sans the pomp and austere entrance one would expect to follow one of the nation’s most powerful judges.
Over the course of an hour-long question-and-answer discussion with students at the university’s law school, Kagan showcased an engaging, intellectually curious and humble personaltiy. There may be good reason for it: turns out she’s a diehard Mets fan.
Kagan visited St. John’s Belson Moot Court Room for a discussion led by the Law School’s Dean Michael Simon, covering topics ranging from life in the Supreme Court and judicial philosophy to lunch breaks.
Kagan, 52, was born in Manhattan and raised on the Upper West Side. Roll down her resume and you’ll find names like Princeton, Oxford and Harvard (first as a student; then eventually dean of its law school). Throw in a stint as solicitor general, arguing cases in front of the Supreme Court on the federal government’s behalf.
But again: she is a Mets fan. And sometimes, good things seem to happen serendipitously for both the Mets and Kagan. Take, for example, her law career.
“I went to law school for all the wrong reasons,” she admitted. “I didn’t think of anything else to do.”
Her dad was a lawyer — by all appearances, a rather boring job to the young Kagan. That all changed when she started law school. “I loved it on my first day of class,” she said.
It should be noted the Mets historically have the best opening day record in the National League.
It’s hard to overemphasize the effect Mets fandom has on a person’s demeanor. Consider the very common “whose team is better” argument that peppers New York’s crosstown rivalry. Yankees fans’ default position starts at “winning” — A tradition they’ve repeated 27 times over.
Mets fans mix Hall of Famers (most traded away in their prime), classic moments, cult heroes and two World Series wins. A similar hodgepodge informs Kagan’s Supreme Court decisions.
The most commonly cited approach to rulings comes from Justice Antonin Scalia, a vocal proponent of “originalism.” The fellow New York native sticks strictly to his interpretation of the Constitution and the founding father’s intention when deciding his vote in cases.
It’s a system that is common among the Supreme Court’s more “conservative” justices: Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. The principle — has to be good because it has always been this way -— sounds like a familiar argument for a baseball team in the Bronx.
Kagan’s approach is different.
“Original interpretations are one of several factors that go into constitutional interpretation,” she said, pointing to relevant history and the precedent of the court as other issues.
So yeah, maybe the Mets only have two rings, but Tom Seaver was one of the best pitchers of his time. And who brought Nolan Ryan into the majors?
The method falls in line with the philosophy of the Supreme Court’s more “liberal” justices: Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. But don’t tell Kagan it’s political.
“You hear people say it’s all politics,” she said. “I completely reject that.”
Also, disavow yourself of any notion the SCOTUS justices aren’t buddies. They have regular lunches together, and maintain a convivial atmosphere by avoiding office talk while chowing down.
Unfortunately, she won’t be talking much baseball. But sometimes she doesn’t separate work from pleasure.
The almost annual fall doldrums that come with a life spent supporting the Amazin’s led Kagan to include New York’s other baseball team in one of her written decisions.
The justice submitted an opinion as part of a unanimous April 17 ruling on federal drug laws, Caraco Pharmaceutical Laboratories, Ltd. v. Novo Nordisk A/S. In it, she makes a semantic argument delineating “not a” and “any.” Her choice example?
“If your child admits that she ‘did not read a book all summer,’ you will surmise that she did not read any book (but went to the movies a lot),” Kagan wrote. “And if a sports-fan friend bemoans that ‘the New York Mets do not have a chance of winning the World Series,’ you will gather that the team has no chance whatsoever (because they have no hitting).”