Justice Elana Kagan spoke to lawyers and judges in Lexington yesterday at the Sixth Circuit's judicial conference. Even conservatives who disagree with her jurisprudence found her comments engaging. Kagan displayed humor, warmth and humility.
Kagan, who is the Circuit Justice for the Sixth Circuit (which encompasses Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee) used her speech as an opportunity to let us get to know her on a more personal level. She goes to the opera with Justice Ginsburg and -- get this -- hunts with Justice Scalia!
The hunting with Scalia came about as a joke she made with a conservative Senator during her confirmation. The senator was trying to discern her position on the second amendment but knew he could not ask directly. So he asked how she felt about guns and whether she had ever hunted. She had never hunted or held a gun, she told the senator, but offered to go hunting with him if confirmed. The senator looked horrified, so Kagan clarified that she was joking.
After she was confirmed, she told Scalia the story and asked if he would take her hunting. Scalia thought that was hilarious and said yes. First he took Kagan to shoot clay pigeons to learn about gun safety. Then he took her to hunt quail and pheasant. Kagan and Scalia have hunted together four times, and Scalia has pronounced her ready for "big game." Their next hunting trip will be to Montana for elk, she said.
Regarding the operation of the Court, Kagan expressed surprise that the justices do not email each other. Instead, they communicate by hand-delivered memos on heavy-stock paper. At first Kagan thought the practice was absurd, but she has come to value it as a means to promote deliberative decision-making.
She described relations among the justices as quite cordial. They have lunch together frequently and have a rule that cases will not be discussed at lunch. They talk sports, according to Kagan. She roots for the mets and Justice Sotomayor is a Yankees fan.