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Exploring Leadership in the News with Steven Pearlstein and Raju Narisetti

Want change? A woman can bring it

Q: In appointing a new Supreme Court Justice to replace John Paul Stevens, President Obama was seeking someone who could provide intellectual and personal leadership of the liberal block. His gamble in nominating Elena Kagan is bringing in someone from outside the 'priesthood' of appeals-court judges. What are the advantages and disadvantages of selecting a leader with non-traditional qualifications?

Whether it's Congress or the Supreme Court, today's divisive climate is one where political and party ideology is not moving us toward the best laws or court decisions.

That's when you go for a highly qualified outsider: That's the slogan and climate that took Obama all the way to the White House...and the status that Obama believes will
take Kagan to a seat on the highest court in the land.

Kagan is not an outsider to law at its highest levels; far from it. As the first woman Dean of the Harvard Law School and now the U S Solicitor General who takes the public's case to the Supremes, she is our nation's top lawyer. And it's a fluke that she hasn't had bench service. Her nomination to the US court of Appeals for the DC Circuit (at 39 no less) was stuck in the list of Clinton appointments that Republicans blocked, and the current Chief Justice got the coveted spot under Bush.

To shake it up a bit, Obama needed someone not with a long list of bench decisions that could be endlessly debated, but instead with a long list of experience and credentials that were unassailable. Hence Kagan.

In the cases she's argued as Soliciter General, she's already shown an unusual willingness to challenge the Chief Justice and Scalia. I think she'll feel even more comfortable making those same challenges as a colleague.

But it's the way she was able to bring Harvard faculty together and bring the students closer to the school that I believe made her the "outsider" Obama had in mind; one that makes others feel more like insiders. Harvard scholar Lawrence Tribe says in describing these feats, "No dean of any modern American law school has done what she's done." Yesterday Obama sent a message to supporters calling her a "beloved and successful leader" at Harvard, one who exhibits "openness to other viewpoints and skill in working with others to build consensus."

Finally, if she is confirmed, this will be the first time in all of U.S. history where there will be three women on the Supreme Court, a number that gets us closer to being a proportion that allows women's participation on the court to go beyond gender and to being seen by colleagues and citizens alike for their insights. And as our work, and much scholarly research has shown, her understanding of the law is more likely, as Obama says to be "deeply rooted in a deep awareness of its impact on people's lives."

We go to outsiders when we want change, and when the change we want is for more of us to be insiders, we go to women.

By Marie Wilson

 |  May 11, 2010; 5:44 AM ET
Category:  Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Will we ever see an all female supreme court?. Women have lived with male dominance since the beginning of time.
The problem with the world is that men think they are so smart.

Posted by: JillCalifornia | May 11, 2010 7:54 PM
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I don't understand how going, "outside the 'priesthood' of appeals-court judges." is a good thing while staying inside the 'priesthood' of Yale and Harvard graduates. Really? All justices will have gone to the same two schools? That is true lack of diversity. Not the superficial ‘diversity’ of discriminatory race, gender or religion, but actual real lack of intellectual diversity.

Posted by: ArlingtonMiller | May 11, 2010 7:43 PM
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The more I learn about Elena Kagan the more I think she has the potential to be a positive, powerful change agent on the SCOTUS. Once more Obama has shown himself to be intelligent, yet shrewd. Oh, and I live about as far west as you can go (in the contiguous 48).

Posted by: tjconnor | May 11, 2010 6:58 PM
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Oh, yes, another Northeastern elitist is just what we need to make all of us Westerners feel like we "belong", like we have some sort of say in our government. Look, the present Supreme Court is completely composed of "progressive" (big government) Northeasterners who haven't got the slightest idea of how we, out West, even think, much less our concerns. Mr. President, there IS a country West of the Mississippi. If you think people out here were angry about the fixed BCS game selection for football championship games, you ain't seen nothin' yet.

Posted by: mibrooks27 | May 11, 2010 6:48 PM
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She would represent women's viewpoints about as good as the National Women's League of Voters - in other words, only liberal viewpoints please, or you are not a woman (at least not one to help get elected).

Posted by: Georgetowner1 | May 11, 2010 6:07 PM
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Cut me a break. These comments are ridiculous. If Clarence "the Clown" Thomas can sit on the Bench, anyone can. The Court's conservative wing is hateful and closed minded. I pray daily for the death of one or more of them.

Posted by: wjfreeman1 | May 11, 2010 6:07 PM
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An outsider? She's a Larry Summers protege. Nice try, White House.

Posted by: cossack2 | May 11, 2010 4:26 PM
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A Liberal elitist that has always been surronded by other Liberal elitists in a closed world either in Harvard, or Chicago. A freind of Cass Sunstein, Obama, and other Progressive liberal extremist socialists. She has no experience on the bench (has never been a Judge). This would be like finding a new surgeon but allowing student vets, or nurses perform your surgery. The only criteria that Kagan fills is for progressive liberal socialist extremists. She is a mirror of Obama, and Obama is a national DISGRACE.

Posted by: ignoranceisbliss | May 11, 2010 4:24 PM
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Kagan is a clapped out lefty with no experience as a judge and a highly unconvincing, actually embarrassing, performance arguing cases in front of the Supreme Court. She doesn't have the intellectual firepower to fulfill the duties of a Supreme Court Judge. Of course, there is probably a way to demonstrate this during hearings but politics means the outcome is predetermined. The drift of our nation from democracy toward racial socialism is assured.

Lets pray conservatives start having more kids for a better American future -- the burden of taxes, expensive land, and wage stagnation currently limits family size but perhaps migration away from the coasts and historic urban centers will stimulate a demographic Renaissance for Americas most talented people.

Posted by: greg3 | May 11, 2010 3:51 PM
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